Arnold Schwarzenegger: Man of steel …and concrete

In his state of the state address on January 5, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger unvelied his big, bold, borrow-and-build plan. It is a ten-year, $223-billion program of bond measures to build and rebuild schools, jails, highways, levees, and other infrastructure that has not kept up with the fast pace of growth in the state.

Under California’s we-love-gridlock constitution, multiple bond measures will be required, spread out of several years, and each measure will require approval of 2/3 of each house of the legislature before it can even go before the voters.

This causes problems, in that legislators and their construction and development contributors almost inevitably will see the this as a pork-fest. Moreover, the legislature and electorate alike will be free to pass some measures and reject others. Together, the result of the numerous obstacles between proposal and enactment practically ensure that the overall package will lack the kind of coherent and long-range planning the state needs to cope with the expected growth.

Yet another problem is that the infrastructure expansion is unlikely to be accompanied by “smart growth” and improved hazard zoning practices that would prevent the building boom from simply encouraging more sprawl and more settlement in wetlands, senstive coastal regions, and the most earthquake-, flood-, and firestorm-prone regions of the state.

A state commission is needed to ensure that projects are chosen wisely, and that other dimensions of the development and growth policy aside from building stuff are not neglected, as well as to propose constitutional amendments that would allow packaging of inter-related plans that otherwise have to be dealt with in piecemeal fashion. Alas, I doubt this state currently has governance institutions to do this kind massive spending and building effectively and intelligently.

And then there is the general shortchanging of mass transit, which is sorely under-developed in most of this state. (The linked story, alas, is about LA politicians clamoring for their own pet projects to be included in the plan. Oink, oink.)

And then there is Schwarzenegger’s plan to put off of one of the state’s biggest and most-needed infrastructure projects: high-speed rail. Originally planned as a bond measure several years ago to support a public-private partnership to build a network (see map) of high-speed lines and improvements to existing intercity and commuter rail lines, its non-inclusion in Schwarzenegger’s plan could kill it.

Fly California

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