Darrell Steinberg wants you in an ant farm

May 2, 2012

By John Seiler

The second most poweful politician in California is Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento; after Gov. Jerry Brown. Steinberg’s background is with labor unions. And he represents the state capitol — that is, state workers whose jobs, wealth, perks, pensions and power depend on having the biggest, highest-taxing, most-regulating and most-bullying government possible.

Today he detailed his political philosophy in a letter to the Wall Street Journal. He was responding to a Journal article attacking SB 375, the 2008 bill that he sponsored, and which then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law. According to a summary by the Southern California Association of Governments, which implements much of the bill, SB 375:

“SB 375 (Steinberg) is California state law that became effective January 1, 2009. This new law requires California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) to develop regional reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), and prompts the creation of regional plans to reduce emissions from vehicle use throughout the state. California’s 18 Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) have been tasked with creating ‘Sustainable Community Strategies’ (SCS). The MPOs are required to develop the SCS through integrated land use and transportation planning and demonstrate an ability to attain the proposed reduction targets by 2020 and 2035.”

Steinberg began his letter:

“More unmitigated sprawl, more smog, more cars on our already congested freeways—is that tarnish what Californians really want to see for the future of the Golden State?”

What contempt he has for regular, middle-class families:

* By “More unmitigated sprawl” he means nice suburbs in which to raise families, instead of the high-rise projects he want to shove us into like ants.

* “more smog” is a red herring. Smog from cars has dropped more than 95 percent in 50 years, and keeps declining as cars get cleaner.

* “more cars” means individual freedom of transporation, instead of being squeezed into uncomfortable buses or mass transit that takes three or four times the minutes to get someplace. In any case, cars are here to stay. SB 375 won’t change that much. And does Steinberg take mass transit?

* “already congrested freeways” are congested because, beginning with Gov. Jerry Brown’s “era of limits” administrations in the 1970s and early 1980s, the state has not built enough roads, instead wasting highway funds on mass transit, or general-fund pork. Moreover, the easy way to relive congestion is to privatize the freeways, which then would become toll roads charging more during rush hours.


Steinberg wrote:

“Wendell Cox, in his April 7 Cross Country [article in the WSJ]: “California Declares War on Suburbia,” indicates that’s a favorable path, while mischaracterizing the intent and impact of a bill I authored in 2008 that will provide California residents exactly what they want: more housing options, greater access to public transportation, shorter commute times and an average savings of $3,000 per household per year on transportation and energy costs.”

Ever hear of a government program that saved money? And notice the “will provide California residents exactly what they want.” But Steinberg contradicted himself in the very next paragraph:

“The California Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act (SB 375) is a rational approach that serves as a blueprint for other states on how to turn inevitable growth into smart growth. Its provisions provide regions with a thoughtful framework to minimize expanding development, relieve roadway congestion, provide housing and working alternatives to Californians confounded by gridlock, and improve air quality. That is why it earned the support of a broad coalition including the California Building Industry Association, the League of California Cities, the California State Association of Counties and environmental and affordable housing advocates.”

By “rational approach,” he didn’t mean you decide, rationally with your family, where and how you will live. He meant “rational” in the sense used by political philosopher Michael Oakeshott in a famous essay, “Rationalism in Politics.” In that sense, “rationalism” means an ideological scheme that is not based in reality. In one summary, “Oakeshott argues that the rationalist, in awarding theory primacy over practice, has gotten things exactly backwards: The theoretical understanding of some activity is always the child of practical know-how, and never its parent. In fact, he sees the dependence of theory on practice as being so unavoidable that not only is the rationalist incapable of skillful performances guided solely by theory, he is not even able to stick to his purported guidelines while performing poorly.”  

In housing, “rationalist” projects are the Cabrini Green housing projects in Chicago, which were supposed to bring nice living conditions for poor folks, but ended up being gang- and crime-infested, and were torn down. Another “rationalist” project is the whole city of Detroit, which has been run by Steinberg-like liberals for 60 years, has lost half its population and is a byword for urban disaster.

Consider again this sentence of Steinberg:

“Its provisions provide regions with a thoughtful framework to minimize expanding development, relieve roadway congestion, provide housing and working alternatives to Californians confounded by gridlock, and improve air quality.”

That’s pure, controlling, elitist “rationalism”:

* “minimize expanding development” means destroying your property rights to build a house where you wish, with your own money, after paying a market price to a willing seller.

* “relieve roadway congestion” doesn’t mean private toll roads, but slamming you into a crowded bus.

* “provide housing” means forcing you into Cabrini Green-style projects.

* “working alternatives” means government dictates not only where you live, but where you work. Assuming you even have a job in a state where Steinberg, Schwarzenegger, Gov. Jerry Brown and others have spent a decade destroying jobs.

He continued:

“That is why it earned the support of a broad coalition including the California Building Industry Association, the League of California Cities, the California State Association of Counties and environmental and affordable housing advocates.

But these supporting groups he listed are either a building association in tight with the government and eager to get political contracts in an ultra-politicized state, government entities or ideological activists wanting a piece of the manipulative action. Naturally “environmental…activists” would support SB 375, because it advances their goal of making the earth a nice nature preserve without any people.

And get this. He wrote:

“Housing choices and preferences are changing, and those who imply otherwise have their heads in the sand. Market research reported in this paper just last year reveals a shrinking market demand for single-family homes.”

Yes, that’s because people are broke from the anti-jobs policies impose by him and such Republicans as Schwarzenegger. You can’t live in a nice, single-family home home if you’re standing in an unemployment line.


“Yes, SB 375 incentivizes higher densities, but it uses a carrot, not a stick.”

Right. It uses a giant carrot to hit people over the head.


“And while developers content with their standard formula for sprawl may hem and haw, the fact is that people who want single-family homes will always be able to find them.”

Yes, if they’re rich. That’s a point I have been making, as has Joel Kotkin.

Steinberg even said:

“The general belief that smart growth policies are driving California’s people and business investment to other states is just plain wrong. The numbers don’t lie. The National Venture Capital Association and PricewaterhouseCoopers recently reported that California gained $14.5 billion in venture capital last year. That’s more than half of the country’s $28 billion in venture capital investments and almost five times the amount of the second-ranked state of Massachusetts. And while people relocate for any number of reasons, California’s population has increased 10% from 2000 to 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.”

That’s a bait and switch. We get so much venture capital because computer nerd geniuses keep coming to Silicon Valley with companies like Facebook; or start them there. But if your IQ is lower than 160, forget it. As Joseph Vranich has reported, businesses keep exiting California at record rates. That’s why the state unemployment rate rose in March, to 11 percent statewide.

As to the state’s population growth of 10 percent, that was the lowest decade-over-decade performance in the state’s history. As recently as the 1990s, growth was 25.7 percent. The growth the past decade mainly was from other countries. But now even that has ended, as Mexicans are fleeing unproductive California of Steinberg-Brown-Schwarzenegger for the booming, pro-growth Mexico of Presidente Felipe Calderon.

Steinberg concluded:

“California is a desirable place to live and our population will continue to grow. We’re diverse, innovative and our economy is good at producing high-wage jobs.”

Just not many of them.

California will not have the “smart growth” future Steinberg promises because it won’t have any growth at all.


Write a comment
  1. Ted Steele, CEO
    Ted Steele, CEO 2 May, 2012, 20:04

    (sarcastically) Oh you’re right John. Urban sprawl is not a problem in Calif., good point.

    Reply this comment
  2. CalWatchdog
    CalWatchdog Author 2 May, 2012, 21:23

    Dear Ted – guess why urban sprawl exists in California?

    “Sprawl” may not be pretty to you, but to the hundreds of thousands of people who live in a home instead of a high-rise apartment in a lousy part of downtown, it’s heaven.

    Steinberg happens to be my “representative.” I well remember his days on the Sacramento City Council when he vehemently denied aspirations to statewide office. But, as a city councilman, he continually voted to approve expansions of government, and always for pro-union benefits – policies he continues to this day as the Senate President. And, he was, and continues to be financially supported by Sacramento’s big developers.

    Your sarcasm is weak. John Seiler is right that leftist politicians say they want us to live in nasty high-rise complexes, take mass transit, and go to work at our government jobs. But these same politicians have always taken big developer money, and approved the sprawl while claiming to be against it.

    Katy Grimes

    Reply this comment
  3. Beelzebub
    Beelzebub 2 May, 2012, 21:56

    Steinblow would have fit hand in glove into the old Politburo. He would have risen straight to the top. I bet Krushchev would have handed him his shoe after he beat the table with it. He really missed his calling.

    Reply this comment
  4. Jeff Greene
    Jeff Greene 2 May, 2012, 22:23

    In the BIA’s defense, they were blackmailed into supporting SB 375, by being told that if they didn’t support it, there would be a lot more sticks and a lot fewer carrots. As private enterprise usually does when the government threatens their livelihood, they capitulated and put on a pretend smiley face.

    Reply this comment
  5. queeg
    queeg 3 May, 2012, 07:29

    Some think Berlin and Vienna are vibrant modern cities…..

    Visit them…

    Small rise apt houses everywhere….people live like rats!!!

    The RICH own these buildings….some private people own individual apts…they pay huge prices.

    The socialist leaning residential planning model is coming to your community!!!

    Reply this comment
  6. Rogue Elephant
    Rogue Elephant 3 May, 2012, 08:08

    Yes, that’s the political gangsterism that rules California. Ante up your protection money and voice support for the kommisar’s or face re-education.

    Reply this comment
  7. Ted Steele, CEO
    Ted Steele, CEO 3 May, 2012, 08:45

    I like Wendell Berry’s old quote that the way these modern republibaggers like to live in our environment is basically just a version of fools who like to piss in their own cisterns….


    Reply this comment
  8. Beelzebub
    Beelzebub 3 May, 2012, 09:39

    That must have been a sequel of democraps ‘crapping in their own nests’ 😀

    Reply this comment
  9. Ted Steele, CEO
    Ted Steele, CEO 3 May, 2012, 11:14

    Poor beezyboob had to run to Google(tm) with that Berry reference!

    Reply this comment
  10. Beelzebub
    Beelzebub 3 May, 2012, 11:29

    tm??? HAH! You goofball.

    Reply this comment
  11. Michael Patrick
    Michael Patrick 3 May, 2012, 12:02

    This commentary assumes suburban living with cars as the only viable transportation represents freedom. Why an environment in which

    * using your own two feet for any errand is basically out of the question,
    * the bicycles that depend on no fuel source except the rider’s breakfast are crowded off the road,
    * the cost of the remaining transportation option of the automobile is heavily susceptible to changing gas prices,
    * everyone’s transportation at any moment depends on everyone else’s driving choices and habits,
    * the individual who cannot drive a car because of age or physical condition must depend on others for rides,
    * the sheer distance between land uses as imposed by poor zoning rules and private building practices demands car transportation for almost every purpose,
    * the personal option of public transportation is made virtually or literally unavailable by the transit-unsupportive environment, and
    * the choice to live in alternative neighborhoods where cars are much less necessary is just not available for lack of such neighborhoods in appropriate locations

    should represent freedom needs further explanation.

    Car-dependency is not freedom. Having a choice of using a car, a bike, public transit, or the feet to reach points near and far is freedom. This is what’s found in dense cities, and this is what’s found in the older detached-house suburbs next to those cities. But this is not found in the newer suburbs with walled-off subdivisions, disconnected streets, parking lots surrounding each and every store, mostly uncrossable arterials, and car primacy in almost every public and semi-public place.

    And, wouldn’t you know it, much of this un-freedom status quo, though happily constructed by the real estate and building industries, was “planned” by the local government policies such as exclusive zones and wider-and-faster-equals-better road standards. So what we see now in the “free” suburbs is not an expression of unhindered property rights but in part a dictated vision.

    But now under SB 375 those local governments have an incentive to stop imposing that vision and start allowing a choice among neighborhood types and among transportation options, plus the permitting process for the newer development types would be eased. The choice of living in existing sprawling neighborhoods still exists, as car-dependent as ever if you like that, as do the foreclosed houses, if their sheer undesirability hasn’t yet prompted their developers to tear them down. But where new development exists, whether on reused inner properties or unbuilt outer lands, it might very well be a mixture of apartments*, townhouses, and even detached houses with lawns, whether for rentership or ownership, plus nearby goods and services, all on streets and a street network allowing both car and non-car transportation.

    Compared with the status quo, this is a step toward greater freedom.

    *And not a Cabrini Green to be seen anywhere, as that has not been anyone’s idea of a model in California since the 1950s.

    Reply this comment
  12. Ted Steele, CEO
    Ted Steele, CEO 3 May, 2012, 13:46

    I have to do it Beezyboob because I am The Ted Steele System ™, It’s required by law.

    Reply this comment
  13. Beelzebub
    Beelzebub 3 May, 2012, 15:38

    You are the court jester of CWD.

    Reply this comment
  14. Ms Right
    Ms Right 3 May, 2012, 16:38

    MP, no one is stopping you from building a multipurpose/multi form neighborhood (well, accept maybe the planning board) – build it and people like you will go there, the point of the article is that suburban life is being squeezed out as well as middle class jobs. I own a suburban house, all of this regulation on planning only makes my house more valuable, because people still want the American Dream of owning a house in the suburbs and the ability to go where and when they want with their cars. If a disaster occurs and you need to get out of town, you need independent transportation, those bus drivers will not be picking you up and walking or riding a bike isn’t going to get anywhere fast.

    This law is so extreme that San Diego is being scrutinized by K. Harris because there are too many roads being built by the year 2050 and not enough public transport (oh, I’m all for bike paths and walk ways, they are called trails & wouldn’t cost anything). Thank you Mr. Seiler for exposing this mess.

    Reply this comment
  15. Michael Patrick
    Michael Patrick 3 May, 2012, 17:51

    Ms Right, that regulation making your house more valuable was already there, part of the status quo. In fact, quite a lot of zoning and growth-limit regulation in quite a lot of communities really would stop me from building that multipurpose/-form neighborhood.

    Unlike that existing regulation, SB 375 does not set boundaries for development or attempt to constrain or reduce the supply of a particular housing type. The status quo can continue if the local community wants. In some cases the law actually _simplifies_ development by letting it bypass the usually lengthy environmental process, which could lead to more housing supply. And even if it’s just apartments that qualify for that, do you really think the building industry will ignore demand for single-family housing? It’s not as if SB 375 forces them to do so.

    It’s also not as if SB 375 forces anyone not to own a car, so, when that disaster comes, every Californian (who can afford it and has a license) can hop in a car and get away (if they’re not stuck in a getaway traffic jam, of course).

    It’s not so extreme for the Attorney General to review a major planning document for one of the state’s largest regions and find it doesn’t fully follow state law, nor is it so wrong to recognize building more roads does not necessarily solve traffic congestion or help air quality.

    Reply this comment
  16. Ted Steele, CEO
    Ted Steele, CEO 4 May, 2012, 08:19

    MP– Well said. These repub tea baggy cultists will push the liberty property dull normal mantra until we are all living in a paved over mess. I mean look at Southern Calif! These are the same folks who have this idea that building more roads eases traffic congestion when every road built has just added communities and sprawl congestion. They will NEVER understand. Which is why I think Gov. Brown was correct calling the current Sacto Republibaggers a CULT ! ANY idea suggested from outside the cult is wrong.

    On another note— it’s kinda fun watching them all line up behind Mr. Romney. I won’t even mention cult comments related to him. Although the Christian tea baggy right used to always mention it……..hmmm funny how they are quiet about that now in the Republi-cult.

    Well, I digress, sorry.

    Freeeeeeeeeeeeeeedommmmmmmmmmmmm !!!!

    Oh man, that was fun.

    Reply this comment

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