In hard times, city planning gets the ax….to the detriment of humans, the environment, local economy….

Yes, as more conservative politicians get elected to lead the “recovery” they have decided that they know the enemy of creating jobs:  city planning.  In the last couple of months, two significant actions have taken place on opposite ends of the country. In Florida, Republicans axed a 25 year old program which was put into place to manage the extreme growth in the state.  In San Diego, the Mayor abolished the City Planning department.

The reason given in Florida are the same tired old “get government out of the way so free enterprise can create jobs.”  Of course, that is just a smokescreen for looting the state and harming the environment so a few guys can get even richer.

The Republican mayor of San Diego obviously wants more freedom for his fat cat developer friends, so he eliminated 107 planning department employees and more than $18 million dollars from the planning budget.  Now the”planning” that is to be done is really about “development services”.

We are fortunate here in Lex to have a mayor who understands the importance of planning.  We’ve got to ensure that that lasts.

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Florida Kills Growth Management Act

On May 6, the final day of the Florida legislature’s regular session, lawmakers took a fateful step backward. As part of their approval of the state budget, they said yes to pulling the plug on the 1985 Growth Management Act.

The law required local governments to get approval of their growth plans from the Florida Department of Community Affairs, and demanded developers to show a need for their projects. Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders blamed the act for stifling Florida’s economic recovery and pushed for its repeal. They contended that a return to the system that existed in the 1970s and early ’80s would create badly needed jobs.

Now local governments will be in the driver’s seat, free from state oversight. “What we really want the state of Florida to do is provide assistance when they ask, not stuff it down their throats,” said state senator Mike Bennett, sponsor of the Senate bill. However, the bill also bans cities and counties — many of them struggling with budget cuts — from imposing impact fees on nonresidential development for two years.

At Bennett’s urging lawmakers also approved a measure shifting the burden of proof to citizens in cases challenging a development permit. In the past the burden lay with a developer to prove his project would not hurt the environment.

Supporters of the agency, which had its budget slashed, point out that in the past four years it has approved local plan amendments covering 950,000 acres of land, creating new, unused development capacity of 600,000 residential units and nonresidential capacity of 1.5 billion square feet — and it will take years to build all of that.

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San Diego Axes Planning Department

San Diego, a city known for innovative planning — its general plan won APA’s Daniel Burnham Award for a Comprehensive Plan in 2010 — has a planning department no more. For the second time in 16 years, the department has been merged with development services and its staff and budget have been cut back dramatically.

Planning director William Anderson, FAICP, resigned in May after five years on the job and signed on with AECOM, a private consulting firm. “Planning is not dead in San Diego — it’s just more of a change in emphasis,” Anderson says. “In that change of emphasis, my background was more in planning and economic development, and (the new arrangement) wasn’t really suited to my interests.”

The old planning and community investment department had a fiscal year 2011 budget of $22.3 million and 129 employees. As part of the development services department, the planning division’s budget for 2012 — which starts July 1 — is $4 million. It will employ 22 people; most of the planning department’s former staffers are being shifted to other divisions and sections.

“There’s a natural overlap in the two departments on most of the issues we’re dealing with, so I’m certain we’ll see better functioning and service to the public with their integration,” said Mayor Jerry Sanders when he announced the change last January.

Kelly Broughton, development services director and a landscape architect by training, resisted the call to include “planning” in his department name, saying he had not added code enforcement when he acquired that responsibility. “I don’t think anybody will think anything about it if we get their community plan adopted and people are thinking big thoughts and planning a beautiful community,” Broughton says. He notes that work will continue on the 11 community plan updates currently under way.

While the local building industry welcomed the change, community planning advocates worry about unforeseen consequences. “We do need to be thinking about long-range planning and about the ultimate form and vision of the city,” says planning commission chair Eric Naslund, an architect. Leo Wilson, chair of the Community Planners Committee, an advisory body that includes representatives from the city’s 42 recognized planning groups, says that the “red flags (are) up” in case there is any slacking off in planning efforts.

San Diego has seen this drama before. In 1995 then city manager Jack McGrory eliminated the planning department in the name of efficiency; five years later, his successor brought it back. With a change to a strong-mayor system, the reorganization this time was at the sole discretion of the mayor, who is termed out of office next year.

“We didn’t think planning was going to be an election year issue (in 2012) but now it is,” Anderson says.

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