Why California can’t be governed; Op-Ed in L.A. Times

Jerry Roberts and Phil Trounstine, who cover California politics at calbuzz.com, published an op-ed in the L.A. Times on Thurs., June 25, about the six factors they see that make California ungovernable.  They list Prop. 13, budget initiatives, gerrymandering, term limits, boom and bust taxation, and the two-thirds votes required in the Assembly and Senate to pass a budget.  Although this list is not new, the op-ed pulls a lot of pieces together. The writers also end with a note of optimism, in the sense that they believe the public is now demanding, and enacting, measures that will help solve the problem.  From the conclusion of the article:

So what can be done about the dysfunction? In the next few weeks, a blue-ribbon commission is set to recommend sweeping changes in the tax system to stabilize revenue collections. Voters last fall approved Proposition 11, which takes away the Legislature’s power to draw its own districts in favor of an independent commission. Next year, as they elect a new governor, Californians also will vote on a system of “open primary” elections aimed at aiding moderates, and they also will probably decide on one or more initiatives to dump the two-thirds budget vote requirement.

California Forward, a bipartisan good government group financed by major foundations, is crafting proposals to conform government systems and processes to modern management methods. And the business-oriented Bay Area Council is pushing initiatives for a state constitutional convention, the first since 1879, to wipe the slate clean and build a new, rational structure for state government.

“The seriousness of the problem has reached a crescendo,” said Jim Wunderman, CEO of the Bay Area Council. “The public is making a statement, loud and clear, that they expect action.”

For the entire article, click here.

–Frank Gruber

Frank Gruber: In Search of a Fourth Urbanism

CSA’s very own Frank Gruber writes on the recent Denver New Urbanism conference for today’s edition of the Huffington Post.–ed

Frank Gruber

Frank Gruber

Posted: June 25, 2009 12:04 PM

In Search of a Fourth Urbanism

It’s been two weeks since the annual New Urbanism Congress in Denver, giving me time to reflect on what I learned there and on what’s going on with urban design and planning. To begin with, the signs indicate that we are at a turning point; it could be true that, as President Obama said in February, “[T]he days where we’re just building sprawl forever, those days are over.”

The numbers, as Peter Calthorpe might put it, tell the story: both as they relate to demographics and as they relate to money (i.e. financing). The only contra-indicator is that there are so many cheap houses out on the fringes that repopulating foreclosure-land may absorb growth that might otherwise occur in cities.

If conventional suburban development (CSD) is our civilization, it has had its discontents for a long time. Criticism of the postwar suburb arose along with it. Initially this critique was more cultural than based on urban form, but architects and urban designers began to articulate their criticism once the concurrent destruction of the existing city became apparent and the environmental movement arose to decry the loss of farms and nature.

Anti-CSD, or pro-urban, design theories have always, at least until now, fought a rearguard action against both sprawl and continued urban disinvestment (which in many industrial cities and towns has now become massive abandonment). The social/economic/political forces favoring sprawl have been overwhelming, and the factors disfavoring the city — many of them resulting from the fact that cities have been where generations of poor and undereducated rural migrants both domestic and foreign have encountered the modern world — have also rendered insignificant whatever benefit can be realized from what might constitute “good design.”

But now the balance in favor of CSD may shift, and it’s worth considering what the alternatives are, or at least what alternatives are being talked about. One must keep in mind, of course, that as was the case with CSD itself, urban form in America does not necessarily or even typically follow any theory.

Indeed many urbanists refuse to identify themselves with any big ideas, and for several reasons. Many if not most planners and architects consider themselves practitioners first, and prefer to approach each project on its own merits. Many still suffer from a hangover from the fiasco of Modernist urbanism, and they hesitate to associate themselves with anything that smacks of a comprehensive view.

For nearly a decade, however, Douglas Kelbaugh, an intrepid professor at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan, has proposed that there are in fact three schools of urbanism currently viable, and many others have accepted Prof. Kelbaugh’s terminology at least for discussion purposes. Two of the urbanisms have accepted names: New Urbanism and Everyday Urbanism. The third has a name of Prof. Kelbaugh’s devising: Post Urbanism.

(Note: Another purported urbanism came out of Prof. Kelbaugh’s work in Michigan; it’s called “ReUrbanism” by its proponents and reflects a rediscovery of traditional urban form. But the term hasn’t gained much traction and to my mind ReUrbanism is too close to New Urbanism to be considered a separate theory. Just to confuse matters further, the word “reurbanism” is also used to describe the repopulating of American cities in general.)

New Urbanism is the best known of Prof. Kelbaugh’s three urbanisms, and as discussed in my prior Huffington posts from Denver, it works both with broad principles and with local projects. Like Modernist urbanism, New Urbanism is an idealistic movement, but its idealism is based on recovering old urban forms rather than creating new ones. Although New Urbanists typically feel besieged, others outside the movement describe their success in terms like “near hegemonic.” (I’m quoting John Kaliski, an “Everyday Urbanist” (as described in the next paragraph), who actually was being complimentary to New Urbanism when he used those words to describe its success.)

Everyday Urbanism is a much smaller but still influential theoretical framework that arose from the work of three urban planners all then based in Los Angeles: Margaret Crawford, John Chase and John Kaliski. In their 1999 book Everyday Urbanism they celebrate vernacular architecture and the coping tactics of street life. The Everyday Urbanists deny having a specific urban design practice that determines any particular results; they focus instead on process — the involving of local residents in design decision-making — with the goal of creating an inclusive, democratic, non-dogmatic urbanism that would improve the quality of neglected urban environments.

The third movement Prof. Kelbaugh has defined is what he calls “Post Urbanism,” but which I believe can be more descriptively (and accurately) labeled as “Spectacle Urbanism.” This is the city-building around the world associated with “star” architects (or “starchitects” if you want to be negative about it) who have designed mega-projects in such places as Beijing or Dubai. The ideas of Post Urbanism are most associated with Rem Koolhaus, who writes as well as designs. If Post Urbanism can be summarized in one thought, it would be that context doesn’t matter.

My problem with these three urbanisms is that they do not describe what I see as the best examples of city building occurring today. Nor do I see the good examples of urbanism today arising simply from an ad hoc response to circumstances. In Part 2 of this piece I’ll go in search of a fourth urbanism.

Frank Gruber writes a weekly column on local politics, which often involve land use issues, for the Santa Monica Lookout News, a news website. His first book, Urban Worrier: Making Politics Personal, has just been published by City Image Press.

California Media Collaborative Rethinks News Media Deployment

From David Simon, formerly of the Baltimore Sun, to Joe Rodriguez of the Mercury News, reporters, media executives, and observers suggest that we either need to bail out the newspapers, change corporate practices, or invent some a form of media or expand an existing one to distribute the news in a responsible and orderly way.

This post comes to us from Louis Freedberg, the founder and director of the California Media Collaborative, an inter-sectoral project to try and rethink the deployment of news media. They have a new project for investigative journalism on issues facing our state. Take a look at Freedberg’s announcement below.–ed.


Dear Friends:

I wanted to pass on some good news.

As many of you know, over the past year my colleagues and I at the California Media Collaborative have been developing a plan for a new reporting venture in California, in response to the multiple crises facing the news media

We have now joined forces with the Center for Investigative Reporting, the nation’s oldest investigative journalism organization, which is also making California a major focus of its work.  CIR is led by Robert Rosenthal, the former managing editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and executive editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Together we will be launching a new California-focused reporting venture at CIR, with major support from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and The James Irvine Foundation. We’ll be hiring a small group of reporters to do in-depth, watchdog and investigative journalism, focusing on issues such as education, immigration, criminal justice and the impact of the recession on  Californians.   Much of it will be data driven in order to show how state level issues affect people in their own communities, and we’ll be using Web-based technology in new and creative ways.

Many of these ideas were first discussed at the landmark Travers Program conference at UC Berkeley to which many of you made such valuable contributions about 18 months ago.

This project is at its core a collaborative one  – which will mean collaborating not only with other media outlets, but with non-profit organizations, academic and public policy institutions, foundations, civic leaders and others who care about how Californians will be informed and engaged on critical issues facing the state and the nation.

I also encourage you to take a look at the Collaborative’s blog site, http://californiamedia.org as well as CIR’s website, http://cironline.org.  We are developing an entirely new Web site for our new California initiative.  In the meantime, the blog site is intended to be an online convenor of discussion and comment on the state of the news media in California — and to highlight new media innovations.   Please participate!

I look forward to being in touch with you as we move forward with this exciting opportunity


Louis Freedberg

New Book on Prop. 13 from IGS at UC Berkeley + Companion Conference Online

Our colleague, Ethan Rarick, the director of the Center for Politics and Public Service at the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley, sends us information on IGS’s publication of this new book on Prop 13. Ever timely, revisiting Prop 13 is especially critical now with rumbles of a constitutional convention and new tax policies reverberating through the state. The book contains articles from several friends of the California Studies Association.

In addition to the book, take a look at IGS’s recent conference on Prop 13: the conference is available on several video sites linked from this site where  you can also view slide presentations. IGS has other publications here.

Cover image
After the Tax Revolt: California’s
Proposition 13 Turns 30Jack Citrin and Isaac William Martin, editors

A New Examination of the Legacy of a California Political Milestone

In 1978 California voters shocked the political world by approving Proposition 13, a strict limit on local property tax rates. No state had ever approved such a far-reaching constitutional limitation of the power to tax. And Californians did not just approve it; they embraced it, rejecting dire warnings of doomsday from the state’s political, business, and academic leaders. Voter turnout was the highest recorded for any off-year election in the history of California and the tax cut won in a landslide, with 65 percent of the vote. Thirty years later, Proposition 13 remains firmly entrenched in California’s constitution, but what has it meant for politics and public policy in the state?

On June 6, 2008, the thirtieth anniversary of the adoption of Proposition 13, a group of scholars, journalists and policy experts gathered to assess the legacy of this groundbreaking measure. Their mandate was a simple one: assess what we have learned about the political, economic, and fiscal consequences of Proposition 13 over the last 30 years.

After the Tax Revolt: California’s Proposition 13 Turns 30 is a result of that conference, and an attempt to summarize the state of our knowledge about the consequences of this critical event in the history of California and the United States. This collection of essays constitutes a cutting-edge and timely review of one of the most important reforms in California history, and will be crucial for anyone trying to gain a full understanding of politics and policy in the Golden State.

Order at igs.berkeley.edu/publications or by calling 510-642-1428

Contributors include:
Mark DiCamillo, Field Poll
David Doerr, California Taxpayers Association
William Fischel, Dartmouth
Joel Fox, Fox and Hounds Daily
John Fund, Wall Street Journal
David Gamage, UC-Berkeley
Jean Ross, California Budget Project
Terri Sexton, California State University, Sacramento
Steven Sheffrin, UC-Davis
Kirk Stark, UCLA

About the Editors:
Jack Citrin is Heller Professor of Political Science and the director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.
Isaac Martin is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of California, San Diego.

Ethan Rarick
Robert T. Matsui Center for Politics and Public Service
Institute of Governmental Studies
University of California, Berkeley
111 Moses MC 2370
Berkeley, CA  94720

Western History Association Conference October 7-10. Graduate Student Travel Award.

Wester History Assn Banner

This post from Laurie Arnold comes to us via Robert Cherny and H-California.

Go here to learn more about the Western History Association.

Dear Colleagues,

The Trennert-Iverson Scholarship Committee and the Western History
Association would like to remind you about the Trennert-Iverson graduate
student travel award. This award provides $500 in travel support for
graduate students (MA or PhD) to attend the Western History Association
Meeting, held this year in Denver from October 7-10.

In addition, the cost of conference registration and tickets to the
welcoming reception, the graduate student social hour, and the Presidential
luncheon will be included in the award.

To be considered for this award, please send a letter of interest, a vita,
and a letter of support from a faculty advisor to each member of the
committee. Committee members and mailing addresses can be found at this
link: http://www.umsl.edu/~wha/awards/sgrad.html

More information about the Western History Association, including
conference information, can be found here: http://www.umsl.edu/~wha/

If you have any questions about the application process, please contact
Laurie Arnold, Chair of the Trennert-Iverson Scholarship Committee, at

Best wishes,

Laurie Arnold, PhD
Assistant Director
Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts
University of Notre Dame
101 O’Shaughnessy Hall
Notre Dame, IN 46556
574.631.4264 (p)
574.631.4295 (f)

Listen: Christensen, Worster, White: A Passion for Nature: Exploring the Life of John Muir| Aurora Forum

John Christensen, with Richard White and others leads a great program called the Spatial History Project at Stanford. All historians of nature, take a listen to this conversation on KQED about Donal Worster’s new book on John Muir. Fantastic stuff.–ed.

A Passion for Nature: Exploring the Life of John Muir

Donald Worster and Richard White with Jon Christensen

Thursday, May 7, 2009 | 7:30–9:00pm | Kresge Auditorium

In Donald Worster’s new biography, John Muir’s “special self” is fully explored as is his extraordinary ability, then and now, to get others to see the sacred beauty of the natural world. A Passion for Nature is the most complete account of the great conservationist and founder of the Sierra Club ever written. Rich in detail and personal anecdote, it traces Muir from his boyhood in Scotland and frontier Wisconsin to his adult life in California right after the Civil War up to his death on the eve of World War I. It explores his marriage and family life, his relationship with his abusive father, his many friendships with the humble and famous (including Theodore Roosevelt and Ralph Waldo Emerson), and his role in founding the modern American conservation movement. Inspired by Muir’s passion for the wilderness, Americans created a long and stunning list of national parks and wilderness areas, Yosemite most prominent among them. Yet the book also describes a Muir who was a successful fruit-grower, a talented scientist and world-traveler, a doting father and husband, a self-made man of wealth and political influence, and a man for whom mountaineering was “a pathway to revelation and worship.”

via A Passion for Nature: | Aurora Forum.

Kevin Bruce’s California’s Mural Towns

This post comes from the BoomerCafe blog.

California’s Mural Towns | BoomerCafé™ … it’s your place.

Amid all the diverse art and culture in California are its murals … large murals created over the last several decades, and located mostly in smaller towns. San Francisco-born art historian Kevin Bruce has traveled the state to write about its murals for a new book, “Large Art in Small Places: Discovering the California Mural Towns.”

California has always been in the cultural avant-garde. The state’s major metropolitan areas, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, and San Diego, are hotbeds of mural creativity. Diverse cultural, political, economic, and sometimes purely artistic influences have helped create and nurture cutting-edge murals of all styles and persuasions.

“Watchwords in California’s budget mess” – Timothy Hodson on the budget crisis

Timothy Hodson, executive director of the Center for California Studies at Sacramento State University, has an op-ed in today’s L.A. Times looking at the budget crisis from both a historical and political cultural perspective.  From the op-ed:

A democracy needs a minority party that fights for its beliefs but also understands that its beliefs are not those of the majority of the people. Churchill knew the importance of majority rule, which is why he orchestrated the political emasculation of the House of Lords when it consistently used its minority veto to thwart one of the largest parliamentary majorities in British history.

A century later, Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) was so frustrated with the minority Democrats blocking the GOP majority in the Senate that he threatened the “nuclear option” — replacing the supermajority required to shut down debate with a simple majority vote. A compromise prevented going nuclear. State Republicans should accept that the two-thirds vote gives them both power and responsibility, and remember that Sacramento Democrats have their own version of a nuclear option.

South Los Angeles Health & Human Rights Conference, Fri. June 5

South Los Angeles Health and Human Rights Conference

There is a fundamental crisis of health and human rights in south Los Angeles. South L.A. has the poorest health outcomes and indicators in the County of Los Angeles – mirroring the health status in some developing nations. Chronic institutional under-funding, substandard environmental and living conditions, a lack of necessary health services and other inequities have produced some of the worst health conditions and disparities in the country. While local coalitions, community clinics, hospitals, advocacy groups, and nonprofits have pieced together a safety net to address these chronic health inequities, the situation is worsening. The abject failure to uphold and protect the fundamental human rights of
south Los Angeles children and families mandates a community based, transnational, results-oriented approach by residents, service providers and advocates.


Friday, June 5, 2009, 8:00am – 5pm

California Science Center
700 Exposition Drive
Exposition Park, Los Angeles, CA 90037

Register Now

Or call: 323-541-1600, x. 4001

St. John’s Well Child and Family Centers
Community Health Councils
Esperanza Community Housing Corporation
Los Angeles Community Action Network
Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles (PSR-LA)
SAJE (Strategic Actions for a Just Economy)
Southside Coalition of Community Health Centers
South Bay Family Healthcare Center
UMMA Community Clinic

California School Health Centers Association
L.A. Care Health Plan
Los Angeles Best Babies Network
MedPoint Management
St. John’s Well Child and Family Centers
The California Endowment
California Wellness Foundation
The USC Center fro Community Health Studies
Kaiser Permanente

Key Endorsers
African American Alcohol and Other Drug Council /SPA 6 Homeless
Coalition (AAAOD)
American Academy of Pediatrics California Chapter 2
California School Health Centers Association
Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science
Children’s Defense Fund-California
Community Coalition
City of Los Angeles AIDS Coordinator’s Office
Doctors for Global Health
Ex-Offender Action Network (EAN)
Homeless Outreach Program/Integrated Care System (HOP/ICS)
Instituto de Educación Popular del Sur de California (IDEPSCA)
—Worker Health Program
MedPoint Management
National Economic Social Rights Initiative / National Health Law
National Latino Research Center
National Physicians Alliance
Office of Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas 2nd District
Pacific Institute for Women’s Health
Partners in Care Foundation
Partners in Health
People’s Health Movement USA
Physicians for Human Rights
Society for Adolescent Medicine
South Central Farmers Health and Education Fund
UCLA Program in Global Health
USC Office of Religious Life
UCLA Center for Civil Society
UCLA Center for Health Policy Research