Top Opportunities for Urban Improvement
|August 7, 2003||Posted by Staff under The Progress Report|
‘The New Colonist’ Outlines Top Opportunities for Urban Improvement
Urban Issues for California’s Next Governor
Here is a forward-thinking, positive news release from the New Colonist, an online urban-issues magazine.
White Paper Calls for Smart Reforms
California is headed toward terminal gridlock in all major metropolitan areas and their suburbs — and the proposed recall of Governor Gray Davis, regardless of its outcome, presents Californians with an opportunity to correct the problems of today and direct development in a way that will ensure a sustainable future for California.
“Now is the time for us to begin the long task of reconfiguring our cities in ways that are independent of the automobile for mobility and access,” said Eric Miller, editor of the online urban magazine The New Colonist.
“It’s also an opportunity to nurture community and personal tranquility and creativity without condemning residents to long hours of driving just for getting to work, buying the necessities of life, or finding company and entertainment. ”
High Speed Rail from San Diego and Los Angeles to San Francisco and Sacramento will reduce our dependence on fuel-wasting, ozone-wrecking, highly-subsidized air service and reduce the need to dedicate yet vaster tracts of land to airports and their associated feeder roads and parking lots; property tax reform and enlightened zoning guidelines can go a long way to improving California’s business and urban environment; and watershed management can forestall water shortages while bettering the quality of life in our cities and suburbs. These are the most important issues facing California and her cities, as outlined by the magazine’s editors.
“California has historically been at the forefront of urban environmental issues,” Miller said. “But now we are falling behind. It is important now to build for the future, not the past. Good development policy makes good cities, and good cities benefit the countryside by making sprawl less attractive, thus preserving the attractiveness, health, and effectiveness of the state as a whole.”
Miller went on to lay out the building blocks the magazine sees as essential components of an agenda for the next governor. He added that the magazine would be willing to publish statements from candidates addressing these issues, and that any candidate making these issues part of his or her campaign would be endorsed by the site.
The issues are as follows:
- Effective Public Transit
- High-Speed Rail
- Watershed Management
- Zoning for Mixed-Use and Higher Density
- Property Tax Reform
Here is the text of the report’s section on Property Tax Reform:
Property Tax Reform
Present property tax practices penalize the use of land. Land itself is lightly taxed, while use of the land — “improvements” — is heavily taxed. Yet the value of a plot of land depends less on what is on it than on what is around it — the aggregate value of the community in which it lies. This is the source of the real estate agent’s famous dictum: “Location, location, location.” The sellers of property well know that a dump in a good location is more valuable than a mansion in a bad one.
Under the present property tax system, many property owners refuse to build on or improve their properties, because the tax will then increase. Instead, they let land lie vacant and buildings deteriorate, creating a “Bronx Effect,” while hoping that other landlords will improve their properties, and that the rising tide will lift their boat along with those of more conscientious owners. They then can sell out at a profit to someone who wants to build, perhaps to take advantage of population pressures.
Landlords and realtors, by their behavior, are telling us what we should be doing: the state should tax properties according to the value of the land and community, not according the value of what is built on it. This is called a “Land Value Tax,” and the result of employing this practice is that taxes are relatively high on a property whether it is built on or not — and that therefore, rather than holding decrepit or vacant properties in order to reap a one-time windfall profit, the landlord will either develop the land, in order to collect rent on it, or sell it immediately to someone else who wants to build. Land value tax automatically increases the density and attractiveness of a city, because one can command higher rents for a well-built, well-designed property in a well-kept neighborhood — be it commercial or residential (or both) — than for a decrepit or indifferent one. And of course higher tenant densities mean more income for the landlord. This system restrains the tendency of good neighborhoods to deteriorate, and creates a follow-the-leader effect in lower-value neighborhoods when one or two improvements begin to raise the value of the community.
Land value tax will result in better housing, richer retail development, more density, less paving, and more commitment to community values — since an attractive community rich in services and amenities will have a higher commercial value than a decrepit and socially-fragmented one. And it will return more to the state.
For the full text of the entire White Paper, visit www.newcolonist.com/caldev03.html
Cities can be safe, strong and vibrant but they need tax systems based on justice, stability and economic sense. What’s your opinion? Tell your views to The Progress Report!