Creating a Better Future NOW If we are going to make a difference this time, we must quit “investing” millions of dollars in growth subsidies, tax waivers, and building significant excess system capacities, which primarily serve to stimulate both present and future growth, while ultimately starving other public needs and sacrificing local livability and environmental quality along the way.
Instead, we should start the analysis by asking: How much does growth cost us? Who pays for it? Who benefits from it? What, exactly, are we getting for our money spent on growth?
Do we want more of the same? Or do we want to invest our tax dollars differently from here on out?
We owe our taxpayers truthful and direct answers to these questions. It is no longer debatable that the larger the city, the higher the per capita taxes. New development tends to increase property taxes. Why? Growth creates the need for costly new infrastructure to serve the new development, and new residents are seldom, if ever, required to cover even half of the costs generated by the growth. Existing taxpayers in the community are then literally forced to pick up the rest of the tab. I think that existing taxpayers are getting tired of doing so, and I don’t blame them.
Anti-Growth or Pro-Community? Let’s not succumb to the “Growth Is Inevitable” mantra that the growth industry drums out. They’re just like those folks in robes at the airport—they’re just after our money. We need not be helpless victims of change. We can, and should, set limits to our rate of growth, and even consider capping the ultimate size of our communities, at whatever size we collectively feel is in our best interest. Let me hasten to add: By taking such measures, we are not being “anti-growth,” but rather “pro-community.”
If public funds are requested by development, then we owe it to our taxpayers to require a cost-benefit analysis, which should also look at all of our priorities, including schools, libraries, and fire and police officers. To the extent that there are more people being brought into the community, and thus increasing the demand for—and the price of—housing, we should implement strategies specifically designed to create low cost housing, such as inclusionary zoning, which requires a mix of low and moderate housing in every subdivision over a certain size.
In addition to a “cost-benefit” analysis, we should require a “community benefit” analysis, to take stock of all of the poten-tial impacts, both good and bad, that a major development is apt to bring to our community. It just makes sense to consider the likely impacts of major development proposals before allowing them to be built, rather than trying to mitigate their negative impacts after the fact.
To appreciate all the consequences of growth, we need to anticipate change over a broader time span than the planning professional’s traditional 20-years. We need to plan, and to act, as if we are going to be around for a lot longer than that.
We need to consider what the impacts are, cumulatively, for the next 50 or more years. We should ensure that the rate, amount, type, location, and cost of growth and development will not diminish the quality of life our city has presently attained.
We should assure that new development helps us to achieve our community’s goals, rather than frustrating them, by requiring that it pay its own way. All of our policies and laws should be growth neutral, rather than indiscrimi-nately subsidizing growth as we do now.
Unless we move with dispatch to get these philosophical issues resolved and new visions written into public policy and statutory law, we will be left, literally, in the saw dust of purported progress.
Legacy and Future Nearly 20 years ago, Governor Tom McCall warned us that “… there is a shameless threat to our environment, and to the whole quality of our life, and that is the unfettered despoiling of our land: sagebrush subdivisions; coastal condomania; and the ravenous rampage of suburbia here in the Willamette Valley, all threaten to mock Oregon’s status as the environmental model of this nation…”
You were right, Tom, both then and now; perhaps even more so now. But Oregonians are waking up to the threat and the challenge that you saw so clearly. The only question is whether we are willing to elect public leaders, at both the state and local levels, with the political guts to do something about it....
Mike Swaim is the mayor of Salem, the capital city of Oregon. He is currently running for re-election to a third term in that office. Mike may be contacted by eMail, or at his website www.mikeswaim.com, or you may call him at his office, 503-363-0063.