Friday, February 03, 2006

Job Base Needed to Support New Housing Developments

Job Base Needed to Support New Housing Developments
By Bill James

Economic adviser Ian Stuart's presentation on mixed-use development to business leaders this week was met with mixed reviews.

Some attending Thursday's annual Solano Economic Development Corp.'s annual meeting absorbed his message. Others found it unrealistic. I'm somewhere in the middle.

Stuart shared some statistics about Solano County with business leaders that aroused the senses.

= 27 percent of the families that live here do not speak English in their homes.

= Housing in the county is the 18th most expensive in the country.

= The commute in Solano County is worse than San Francisco.

His solutions to the Solano EDC members were to focus on three areas: education, development and commute.

No argument about the education component. His call for more support for Solano Community College, to make it the best two-year college in the country, needs the full support from Solano residents.

But his vision for development and commute, while theoretically interesting, was the portion that met with some doubt and hesitation among those gathered.

Stuart definitely is anti-sprawl. He said development in Solano County should avoid the "sub urban" model and instead be mixed-use.

Ideally, he thinks cities should look like this: Buildings would be four stories high. Retail would be on the ground floor, parking on the second, offices on the third and residential on the fourth.

It may work in Paris, maybe New York or even San Francisco. But most folks I know moved from those areas so they could have a bit more space. The 3-bedroom, 2-bath, ranch-style home on a quarter-acre has been and remains the California dream for many.

On the commute side, he talked about the English and French agreeing to build a rail line under the English Channel to connect the countries and felt if they could accomplish "the Chunnel," we in California (and Solano County), could shift our emphasis from car travel to rail and accomplish great things.

You'll get no objection from me as far as shifting more long-haul commercial traffic from trucks to rail, but with the wide-open spaces in California, establishing an effective urban commuter system to multiple counties or even high-speed train systems, seem almost unreachable.

A more realistic approach to solving the development-commute component he discussed is simply establishing a jobs/housing balance. Developers should shy away from building 5,000-square foot homes in towns where the average job pays $35,000 a year. Before housing developments are approved, the job base in the community should support it.

There just seems to be more practical solutions than forcing everyone into a bus or a train or living in a 1,000-square-foot condo on the fourth floor of a downtown mixed-use development.

Bill James is editor and publisher of the Daily Republic. Reach him at 427-6983 or

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