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Press Release · December 16, 2002

Managing California’s Growth: Regional Planning Is the Latest Trend, But Will It Work?

As state leaders seek out new ideas for managing growth and development, perhaps a look at California’s own experience is the best place to start. A new study published by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) provides some much-needed perspective on how transportation, land use, and environmental planning have evolved over the past century.

Since the late 1990s, California has become a laboratory for coordinated, regional planning reform, with innovative programs taking hold in places such as San Diego and Riverside Counties. The report finds that today’s reforms draw from the state’s past planning traditions, representing a kind of “regional home-rule” where local and state interests are better aligned and there is greater emphasis on regional consensus and integrated planning goals. However, the study suggests that in order for collaborative planning to be successful, state government will have to assume a more active role in mandating and supporting cooperation, rather than relying on purely voluntary efforts.

Author Elisa Barbour, a PPIC research associate, traces growth management in California for the past one hundred years. She identifies a clear evolution in the thinking and strategies for planning, from the turn of the 20th Century – when business leaders worked to conduct local affairs and build large-scale infrastructure for urban expansion without interference from state government – to post World War II California, when state and federal officials tried to amend the fragmented approach with single-purpose agencies such as Caltrans.

We hope the report, Metropolitan Growth Planning in California, 1900-2000, will be a useful reference tool for those interested in urban planning, housing, land use, environmental planning, transportation, or infrastructure issues.