California planning low-carbon oasis where cars aren't king

Dec 14 2012, 12:55 IST
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low carbon oasis (AP) low carbon oasis (AP)
SummaryThe marshes could be turned over to birds, satisfying environmentalists, or paved over with single family homes.

who do not want the last patches of undeveloped land clogged up with dense housing that's bad for wildlife and property values.

"I wouldn't want to live in something like this. People are going to be packed in like sardines," said Margaret Lewis, a member of the Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge, a group dedicated to protecting the San Francisco Bay's remaining wetlands, which opposes the Newark project.

Having to battle environmentalists for more sustainable projects is not what developers had in mind.

"There's an identity crisis in the environmental movement," said Peter Calthorpe, an urban planner who designed models for the state's regional planners. Environmentalists in the 1970s were the vanguard opposing sprawl. And now, he says, they provide cover for anyone who opposes dense urban housing.


The early signs are that once such developments are built, they can be popular.

On a chilly evening in midtown Sacramento, developer John Hodgson points out two former auto showrooms and a vintage fire house that have been converted into mixed-use buildings, with restaurants at street level and apartments and offices above.

The top floor of one such building, steps from the Capitol, holds Governor Jerry Brown's weekday residence.

Hodgson said demand is being driven by the young "creative class," who eschew the car-centric, big-yard lifestyle of their parents. But the parents - "empty nesters" including Hodgson himself - also like living downtown.

When Byron Buck's kids left home, he and his wife left their five-bedroom suburban house for a downtown Sacramento loft.

"The big epiphany for me was I don't think about traffic anymore," Buck said. "That psychic energy of not having to think about that is huge."

Sacramento is now developing abandoned rail yards into what will be the country's largest mixed-use development.


If there is a place made for the car, it is Southern California, with its highways, driveways and drive-in everything. Half the state's population lives in six counties hugging the beaches and stretching into the Inland Empire full of affordable single-family homes. Cheap gasoline fueled growth.

"When people moved to the suburbs of Los Angeles in the past, energy costs were not a factor in the decision making of households because gas was $2 a gallon. That equation has changed now that prices average $4 to $4.50," said Southern California planner Ikhrata.

Between seniors, who will nearly double in number to 20 percent of the population by 2035, and young professionals, there is

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