2003 elections: All about growth and redevelopment


No Federal elections this year, and only a handful of governor's races on the ballot, but many cities around the nation hold their municipal elections in the fall of odd-numbered years. (A good time of year for elections, but it appears that a proposal to move Tulsa's elections to the fall won't be on the ballot anytime soon. Instead we may end up with an early January primary and campaigning during the Christmas season. Bleah.)

It's interesting to see how many of these local elections turned on questions of development and growth, dealing with the nitty-gritty of zoning codes and land-use plans. Here in Tulsa, such issues have not been a major factor in city elections, at least not in terms of open debate -- but development interests have funnelled huge amounts of campaign dollars to favored candidates, and the Tulsa Whirled has managed the trick of endorsing candidates based on their redevelopment philosophy without actually mentioning the issue on their editorial page or in their news coverage.

But elsewhere in the country these issues loomed large and were given significant coverage in the local press.

County and municipal elections in the Washington D.C. suburbs and the Seattle metro area focused on growth and redevelopment. In Loudoun County, Virginia, the battle lines were clearly drawn between a "slow-growth coalition" that had taken power at the previous election, largely defeated this Tuesday by a pro-development slate backed by builders and real-estate interests, the latest in a series of backlashes as Washington's growth spills into the next ring of counties. In the words of one local political activist: "'Smart growth' is dead. Loudoun County is open for business." Meanwhile, neighboring Fauquier County elected slow-growth advocates to run their county. And here's an article from the Seattle Times on open space and "clustering" as an issue in city elections in the suburb of Bothell.

The Cleveland suburb of Lakewood defeated a harebrained scheme to condemn a neighborhood because some homes don't have central air conditioning and attached garages. The vote was close, but they rescinded $151 million in public funding to buy up and bulldoze the neighborhood to make way for upscale shopping and housing. If the scheme sounds familiar, it's the same approach advocated by a Tulsa Metro Chamber report on infill development -- using government muscle to clear a large chunk of Brookside for new upscale development. Lakewood voters also sacked the mayor who backed the proposal. Perhaps unwisely, they defeated a proposal to require voter approval for all such future proposals.

The defeat has bewildered other government land grabbers:

Early yesterday evening, outgoing Euclid Mayor Paul Oyaski said he feared a loss for the Lakewood project would dampen enthusiasm by other suburbs for attempting innovative development proposals.

"When you are rebuilding a city, you've got to do things that are not customary," said Oyaski, who is being considered for Cuyahoga County's chief of economic development.

"Not customary" includes trampling on the Constitution, in Mr. Oyaski's world, I guess. Here's a link to column from Jonathan Adler making the case against eminent domain abuses like this one. He makes the point that there are truly "innovative development proposals" that don't include dispossessing people of their homes (emphasis mine):

Economic development is a laudable goal. I have spent much of my professional life challenging legal obstacles to economic growth. But this end does not justify the means. Barring the use of eminent domain may well prevent the execution of this specific project at this specific location, but it hardly leaves Lakewood without options. The city could pursue multiple smaller projects or seek to foster a more business-friendly tax and regulatory climate. Such options may not have the same political cachet as a major commercial development, but they are worth more serious consideration before people are forcibly evicted from their homes.

Even the most important public purposes must be pursued in a manner consistent with our constitutional values. The war on terror does not justify the sacrifice of fundamental liberties. The need for criminal enforcement does not justify depriving the accused of their constitutional rights. And the desire to redevelop Lakewood does not justify forcibly evicting people from their homes simply because developers and local politicians believe they know how to put the land to better use.

Savannah voted for mayor and city council, four year terms. No clear majority in the Mayor's race, so they'll have a runoff on November 25. The local weekly reported that Savannah's law allowing "to-go cups" -- consuming alcoholic beverages in public -- was a major campaign issue, touching on the balance between entertaining visitors and maintaining quality of life for residents. Zoning and planning don't seem to be a big issue in Savannah politics, perhaps because there is a consensus in place that accepts the importance of historic preservation and the conservation of neighborhood character as crucial to Savannah's identity and prosperity.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on November 9, 2003 1:06 AM.

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