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Dumb Land Use Decisions

Our community is not the only one that suffers from “land use abuse” - the affliction that cedes control of land use to developers who make short term profits at the expense of the public good over the long term. By law in California, cities and counties must adopt a General Plan (a blueprint for the future of the community) that includes a Land Use Element along with many other elements (like chapters in a book) and the elements are supposed to be internally consistent - to not be in conflict. Land Use Elements are implemented by Zoning Ordinances, and the law requires implementing ordinances to also be consistent with the General Plan. Sounds really great…unless you understand there is no enforcement of these laws except via the Courts. Lawsuits being expensive, citizens rarely sue unless the abuse is particularly egregious. So a city or county that is sloppy about its General Plan can get away with it. For example, there really are no adverse consequences for a local jurisdiction with a General Plan adopted decades ago and never really updated. No harm comes to a jurisdiction with a Zoning Ordinance with exceptions and weasel words that let developers put just about anything anywhere they feel like it. A jurisdiction has nothing to worry about if it says a project will have “no impacts” when it is obvious on its face that nearby properties will end up as losers.

That brings us to the subject of storage facilities. Like the ones in our community at Marconi and Norris, Watt and Auburn, or Howe and Wyda. We have lots of them (and might even have more - depositions in the CEQA-abuse suit against the County over the Butano Apartments revealed that the County told developers they could not convert offices across the street from the apartments’ site into a storage facility because the neighborhood would, as indicated by the lawsuit, oppose with vigor). Strong Towns published an article recently about an historic church building in a city in Michigan that will be demolished for a storage building and some speculative (your name here) retail space. At least there, and unlike here, the city made the developer agree to a covenant that prohibits using the site for unwanted businesses like adult bookstores, massage parlors or sexually-oriented businesses. Whether Michigan has better land use laws than California isn’t the point. What’s relevant is the give-away of a community’s soul - in this case an historic building - so a developer or investor can make money. Yet, as the article points out, it’s hard to blame the Michigan town’s developer for the church-becomes-storage project, because the community had inflicted damage on itself over the years by emphasizing strip malls, franchise stores, parking lots and “stroads” (roadways intended for fast-moving motor vehicles) that clashed with the church and its adjacent neighborhoods.

"Tearing down an historic cathedral to build storage units that will house our excess material goods is about the perfect metaphor for modern society."
Strong Towns Facebook post of 01/27/2020 (

Does this sound familiar? Our neighborhoods are constantly being degraded when speculative retail projects are green-lighted against public opinion. And it’s worse when the projects are allowed to remain unoccupied - like, say, Mike’s Market, or the Savings Center, or any one of myriad other examples. Our land use decisions are made, typically without consideration of concerns about things like the value of our homes, the non-pedestrian/bicycle-friendliness of our roads, the poor condition of our pavement, the proliferation of unwanted businesses like liquor stores, etc. Instead, County staff members coddle developers. Though our CPAC tends to do as the staff says, the CPAC is ignored when they actually listen to us. And you can count on the Planning Commission to follow instructions from staff or from the Supervisor who appointed them. It’s no secret the Board of Supervisors routinely neglects most neighborhoods in our community by giving developers whatever they want. That situation is not guaranteed to change if we were ever to gain control of local land use by incorporating. Developers would no doubt seek to control our Mayor and City Council if we had them. But incorporation would force Arden Arcade to create its own General Plan based on public input. And you would notice the listening behavior of local elected officials improving by orders of magnitude. That’s what happened in Citrus Heights, Elk Grove and Rancho Cordova when they incorporated. It can happen here, too, if the community wants it.

May contain: building, architecture, church, tower, clock tower, vehicle, transportation, car, and automobile
The historic Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Roseville, MI, will be torn down and replaced with a storage facility and some retail space for lease to unknown tenants. {Source: Macomb Daily, “Roseville church to be demolished for self-storage facility”, 01/19/2020}
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