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.