James Houle: Stop That Sprawl…

Redwood Valley

At the Ukiah City Council meeting on Feb 20th, we heard a number of justifications for the City of Ukiah taking out a new loan to pay for the road improvements necessary to provide easy access to the planned Costco Store. Councilwomen Mari Rodin said that “It’s about avoiding sprawl”. Later, Sage Sagiacomo, Deputy CEO, said an aim of the City government was to “keep development within the park and discourage urban sprawl”. Vice Mayor Phil Baldwin said that “while the majority of the people in the city don’t love the big box culture and our dependence upon it, this at least keeps business corralled on Airport Park Boulevard” and avoids the hated sprawl. None of these condemners of sprawl explained to us what they meant by the term nor why they so feared it.

Therefore, I went back to the basic law establishing the RDA – Redevelopment Act (Health and Safety Code Section 33031), the original source of the funds that our local government wants to use to prevent “urban sprawl.” I discovered that sprawl, either of the urban big city type or the small rural town type is not mentioned in the Redevelopment Act at all! The first purpose of the RDA was to promote low to moderate income housing that the private sector does not provide. The second purpose was to cure “blight.” Blight is defined as “areas with unsafe buildings, stagnant property values, high business vacancies, high crime rates and residential overcrowding.” As County Supervisor Pinches commented several years back, we don’t really have any urban blight in Mendocino County. Sprawl is generally defined as the tendency to place housing in single family zones some distance removed from public and commercial services and thus vastly increasing the reliance upon automobiles for shopping and essential services. The Redwood Business Park along Airport Park Boulevard already qualifies as a contributor to sprawl and to encouraging reliance upon the automobile.

Sagiacomo opined that the City has known for a long time that, in order to realize its potential, the roads leading to it would need to be improved. Yet, just last year when Walmart applied for expansion to Superstore status, the City did not apply RDA funds to expanding the capacity of roads leading to it and the Planning Commission was forced to reject the Walmart application. Very puzzling this. Council member Mari Rodin explained that Costco shouldn’t be expected to pay for traffic improvements because “that is something a developer would pay for, and we as a city have stepped into the developer role.” Rodin fails to consider that a developer, like the one who started the Redwood Business Park years ago, usually builds road around a mall and then charges their cost to the retail stores as part of their monthly rental fees until he gets his money back with profit.

If the City Council does get the I-Bank loan they want to pay for the Costco roads, we can surely expect Walmart to resubmit their application for major expansion and make use of these same roads. What then? Even more traffic, more sprawl, and the likely closure of even more small businesses and food stores that are now distributed throughout our town and serve as a bulwark against sprawl.


It’s sad to see the meta-idiocy of our national priorities so faithfully reproduced at the local level, but that’s apparently B-as-U (Business as Usual) these days. We’re about 15 years down the road from the establishment of the game-changing WalMart beachhead, and it’s still not clear how their presence has actually helped the local community. As gasoline migrates north of $4/gal once more, at least the much-ballyhooed new courthouse, slated to replace our now-defunct railroad station – the resurrection of which would truly be of benefit – seems to be on hold again.

I am wondering if anyone can tell me whether, in the original proposal for the Redwood Business Park (RBP), the responsibility of street maintenance for the RBP was that of developer Gary Akerstrom, the existing stores, or the City. [By the way, the existing road is interesting in that it is so alligatored that it is becoming ‘permeable paving’.]

Jim Houle makes some good points, and I hope he forwards them to the city council members and staff. I am surprised though that he claims we have no blight. To my eye it is widespread in the Ukiah valley.

Makes one wonder if we will have a new Walmart petition, which will have to be approved now that the city is funding the road project. One can foresee a Walmart and a Costco and a bunch of boarded up businesses elsewhere. Who or what is going to save us this time around?

Reply to Ron Epstein: Yes, you and I see areas such as Calpella and south State Street that are run down, poor and in need of repair, but the legal definition of blight is another matter as used in the Redevelopment Act. I refer you to the Public Policy Institute pp 23-28 of the very informative study “Subsidizing Redevelopment in California” by Michael Dardia. Well worth the reading. Apologies that I cannot copy these pages into this Email – it exceeds my internet intelligence level. If our City Council were to read this study, they might have to change their opinions but, they seem as totally closed in mind as they are in eye.