Brown weighs in on suburb 'war'

By Legal News Line | Jul 31, 2008

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline) - California Attorney General Jerry Brown may or may not be waging war on the state's suburbs, but he is pretty determined to send some shots across the bow of The Wall Street Journal.

The Democratic attorney general's move follows an op-ed that stated Brown wants residents to leave the suburbs for cities in the hope of reducing greenhouse emissions.

An op-ed said Brown is "waging war on the very communities his father helped make possible. Why? Global warming."

The story makes no mention of contacting Brown for comment. But it does not hold back in its criticism.

The author, Joel Kotkin, a presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University, wrote, "Mr. Brown is not above using coercion to create the demographic patterns he wants. In recent months, he has threatened to file suit against municipalities that shun high-density housing in favor of building new suburban singe-family homes, on the grounds that they will pollute the environment. He is also backing controversial legislation -- Senate bill 375 -- moving through the state legislature that would restrict state highway funds to communities that refuse to adopt "smart growth" development plans."

The key quote that forms the basis for the article is Brown's comment to planning experts in March.

"We have to get the people from the suburbs to start coming back," Brown said.

Brown's response to the article was printed in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday.

"One would think that cutting dangerous oil dependency was a no brainer," Brown wrote. "Apparently not for Joel Kotkin."

Brown wrote that Kotkin's article miscast his comments as a war on suburbs, instead a call for a new energy policy that copes with surging gas prices, a plunging dollar and foreign oil producers taking trillions of American dollars.

Kotkin, Brown writes, "paints an oddly cheerful picture of freeway living, including the assertion that our highways are not clogged by long commutes. Mr. Kotkin's vision of unending sprawl is better suited to the 1950s, when gasoline was 20 cents per gallon."

In his piece, Kotkin argued that urban life will not work for all Californians. A 2002 Public Policy Institute of California Poll found 80 percent of Californians prefer single-family homes over apartment living. Kotkin also quotes planning experts who say Los Angeles is particularly ill-suited for urban living, where "most residents and jobs are dispersed among subregional 'nodes.'"

The article stirred up a hornet's nest on political and cultural blog sites, most taking aim at the former governor who again has set his sites on a run for the state's top spot in 2010.

"It's more than a little scary," writes Laura, a "homeschooling mom" who writes about politics, education and pop culture from her Orange County home, "for someone in high public office to be using the legal system to coerce people into living where he thinks they should live."

The National Center for Policy Analysis also weighed in on the story.

"The problem is, Californians do not want to leave the suburbs for the cities," states a blog about the story.

Brown writes that he makes no apologies for his position.

"No thoughtful person can really question the fact that we must grow smarter, with more efficient and less polluting transportation," he wrote.

"Nor, in a time of escalating food prices, can we afford to wantonly plow over irreplaceable farmland. That is why I make no apologies for promoting efficient building standards, renewable energy, and communities that work for people and businesses, not just oil companies."

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