Petaluma's Planning Department Given Pink Slip

Last week, with a $4.5 million budget deficit and no development activity, the Petaluma City Council took the drastic step of eliminating its entire planning department.

From Paul Shigley's Blog: "Elimination of a planning department would be a remarkable turn of events anywhere in California, but the fact that this is occurring in Petaluma is downright shocking.

As just about every planning student knows, Petaluma was the first city in California where voters approved a growth control initiative. That was in 1972, and land use planning has been a local priority ever since. Petaluma voters have rejected proposals to alter the 1972 limitations, and they approved an urban growth boundary in 1998. More recently, the city has focused on downtown redevelopment, and those efforts are so successful that travel writers are now visiting."

Full Story: Petaluma Eliminates Its Planning Department



planners' opposition to growth controls

This article highlights the real reason that most urban planners are opposed to growth controls -- they are afraid of losing their jobs. I'm just glad that dentists don't have the same attitude towards preventing tooth decay.

After 37 Years?

Am I to understand that you believe the Petaluma planners have been sitting on their hands for 37 years, waiting for someone to notice their redundancy? Or is it possible that Petaluma's action has more to do with a rather dramatic dropoff in development of all types in almost every jurisdiction in the country? I suspect the latter.

There are basically two types of growth control. The Petaluma "Build this much and no more" variety and the Portland, OR "Build here, and build this way" variety. I suspect most planners express reservations about the Petaluma variety of growth control based on a combination of the following:

1) That style of growth control is too likely to cause housing prices to increase without a concurrent increase in housing quality (regardless of how you measure quality).
2) If your city is part of a growing region, local growth controls will most likely drive development to the periphery of your jurisdiction, blessing the citizens you represent with all of the negative impacts of development (traffic, air pollution, water pollution, loss of open space, depletion of water supplies, etc.) without offering an opportunity to affect the design, type and density of the development and without the potential to enhance revenue.
3) Our democratically elected employers represent citizens who don't like the idea. That should count for something.

I should point out that Planners who make any of those arguments could turn out to be factually wrong. The housing price effects might not happen. Tax revenues may never appear, and the populace may be more sympathetic to growth limits than we think. Even so, the article gives no evidence that Planners are merly seeking job security when they make their case.

"smart decay"

I hear there is a new idea in dentristy. It is called "smart decay" and is akin to "smart growth" in urban planning. You see with "smart decay" all of the tooth decay is concentrated in one part of the mouth while the teeth in other parts of the mouth remain untouched. This gives people the illusion that something meaningful is being done to address the problem of tooth decay and densists don't lose their jobs.

Well that's a curious read

Well that's a curious read of planners' motivations. Look at the debate over Portland's urban growth boundary - it's the "anti-planners" like Randall O'Toole that are opposed to it. In the case of Petaluma it sounds more like lack of municipal funding and (re)development activity prompted the layoffs. The growth controls - which required the planners' drafting, implementation, enforcement, etc - helped keep them employed, if anything. This is precisely why "anti-planners" cynically claim that planners are in favor of growth controls.

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