Monthly Archives: December 2017

Neither bottom up nor top down.

When the floods come, we can simply reuse this op-ed in the L.A. Times, using a find and replace.  Same for droughts.

Large, high-intensity wildfires are an inevitable and natural part of life in California. The destruction of our communities is not. But many of the political leaders we elect and planning agencies we depend upon to create safe communities have failed us. They have allowed developers to build in harm’s way, and left firefighters holding the bag.

Planning agencies need to push back against pro-development forces in government, whose willingness to build in known fire corridors borders on criminal neglect. The recent devastation of the community of Fountaingrove in Santa Rosa, for example, was both horrible and predictable. (The area has now burned twice in 53 years.) Local leaders need to restrict development in such areas.

California has a structural gap in policy setting that allows this situation to persist.  Local agencies simply aren’t able to make hard, expensive decisions.  They are too close to their constituents; the amounts of money that can sway a city are accessible to developers.  Local agencies can’t even incorporate life-cycle costing in their own self-interest.

But the State has completely abdicated on its authority and responsibility, because of its delusion that local control is best.  This spares the State from doing the difficult work of creating and enforcing unpopular and expensive safety standards.  The proof that local control is inadequate is self-evident, but I doubt the State will ever protect her citizens from foreseeable climate threats.  It does a decent job with earthquake building standards, which it most certainly does not leave up to local jurisdictions.  But in the realm of climate events, the fetish for local control has captured the thought of every State bigwig I’ve heard from, and neighborhoods will burn, flood and desiccate as a result.


*I know some jurisdictions can incorporate longterm self-interest for a while.  But all you have to assume is that that kind of wisdom is normally distributed to see that most jurisdictions will not have it, nor have it consistently over time.  Even intermittent poor decisions will endure and create these emergencies.


ADDED 12/12:  There is a way to address this that doesn’t require a change of philosophy about “local control”.  We could make developers/country supervisors/city council members that create and approve unwise development criminally and financially liable for damages that happen during foreseeable natural disasters.  That would change their incentives.


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