PlanCC 2035: Gambling with Tax Dollars

Corpus Christi, Flour Bluff, Front Page, Opinion/Editorial


Upon reading the didactic fable regarding Plan CC 2035 – “The Story of a Smart Plan Gone Awry” – I was reminded of a pair of quotes:


          “A politician is a person who will build you a bridge where there is no river.” – Nikita Khrushchev

          “Being a politician means having the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next  month, next year… and having the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen.” – Winston Churchill

     Ironically, the idea that politicians so frequently create both false predictions and false promises is apparently not one that is exclusive to Americans. Mr. Khruschev, after all, was the Soviet dictator who headed up the Cold War for Russia and was dedicated to the spread of Communism throughout Southeast Asia and Cuba.

     As for the fictional story of a young couple who falls prey to their own ignorance, it does a great job in illustrating a natural progression of life and reminds us that our wants and needs will change alongside our age and the circumstances under which we live. As a first generation millennial, born in 1980, I understand that many 20-somethings (and in some cases, 30-somethings) will continue to share an infatuation with “downtown living.” Cities like San Francisco and Portland (both mentioned in the story) are growing in population each and every day, and those who move to cities like these certainly are not doing so because they want to live in the suburbs. Moreover, the urban-dwellers who live in these types of cities tend to tout their chosen locations precisely because the downtown area provides for a style of living that is as practical as it is pleasurable. While statistics show that most people still ultimately prefer to own homes outside of the city on larger plots of land, cities with downtown attractions are exploding: Austin, Fort Worth, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, San Diego (to name a few). And although many of the millennials who account for this surge in downtown living will move away from the city as they grow older, another crop of young people will surely move in and replace them.

     One major problem for any city is the art of prediction and planning for the rate of growth that the city can expect to endure. It is difficult to know for certain how many people will move in, how fast they will show up, and what types of consumers they will be. New companies turn up and trigger new visitors, new residents, and new types of business. Together, these things shape and shift the culture of a given place. Because such changes are not exactly predictable from 10 or 20 years out, building a “smart city” with high-rises that reach for the sky in the attempt to force development of a downtown before there is demand for any such development may not be so smart. If high-rises are what people want, a profit-motive will emerge – and so will the high-rise.

     The city of Corpus Christi is not growing at any supreme rate and has not done so for many years. Since the year 2010, the Corpus population has risen by some 15,000 people. When considering the massive influx of new Texans moving to the state each day, it is clear that the Coastal Bend is not carrying the same degree of gravity as that of central and north-central Texas. Moreover, the largest portion of the growth that Corpus has experienced has occurred from the outside-in, starting with the suburbs.

Population CC
Source: U.S. Census Bureau

population of texas

     Although Plan CC 2035 may not qualify precisely as “smart growth”, it does lay the ground work for a city that is pouring tax dollars into the development of the inner city while attempting to shrink urban sprawl and the expansion of suburbia. Certainly such a method of development has been happily embraced by the citizens of cities such as San Francisco and Portland. However, in a city like Corpus Christi, a key weakness in smart growth mentality becomes accentuated as the local government engages in a combination of prediction (the key concept in the fable) and money-spending, which is more recognizable by its other description: gambling. Of course, when the government gambles, they do so on the dime of taxpayers.

     Under its current conditions, the city of Corpus Christi shows no signs of demand for a plan that aims to eventually cut into the expansion of suburbia. In fact, based on the small growth that has taken place, there appears to be more of a demand for suburban life than anything else. Unfortunately, when a city starts down a path like that of smart growth (or any other prediction-driven policy), it falls into a pattern of attempting to fulfill the needs of some (e.g. those who prefer to live downtown) by sacrificing the needs of others (e.g. those who prefer to live in other parts of the city). In the case of Corpus Christi and Plan CC 2035, the needs that are being placed on the chopping blocks are those of the majority. Worst of all, the majority has remained silent because they are largely unaware of these potential changes and the lasting effect they could have on them, their children, and their grandchildren.

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The Story of a Smart Plan Gone Awry

Corpus Christi, Front Page, Opinion/Editorial

Update:  Let there be no mistake.  This little story is fiction.  Such a plan exists, but it has not yet left the hands of the Planning Commission.  The public hearing on PlanCC 2035 will be held on May 18, 2016, at 5:30 p.m., in Council Chambers.  READ the updated plan complete with council members’ and staff’s comments, COMPARE it to the current plan and to PlanCC 2036, ATTEND the hearing, and WEIGH IN with the commission.  The comprehensive plan, whatever shape it takes, will become the law, as per the City Charter.  It will directly affect the way we live in Corpus Christi for many years to come.  It is the duty of every citizen to become educated on the issues, so I implore you to become involved.

     Once upon a time in the City of Corpus Christi, a man and his girlfriend fought for the implementation of “a new kind of comprehensive plan” that was designed to allow the city to “make choices that result in higher quality of life and a more diversified economy.”  It was a smart plan, and they knew it, by golly! It even called for free swimming lessons for all.  Hadn’t they lived in Portland, Oregon, while attending college and loved the little flat they shared in the heart of the city?  It was in a walkable, downtown community where bicycles and buses were the order of the day, where a dog park gave Goody a nice place to run and frolic with other urbanite canines, and where they didn’t add to the very congested streets by driving their own cars – even to Clancy’s pub that was more than ten blocks away.  They loved it and felt good about what they were doing for the environment and future generations.  Why, they didn’t even have a yard, so they weren’t hurting the air quality by using a lawnmower!

     They just knew that laws should exist in Corpus Christi to start easing everyone into this better way of living.  They even secretly laughed at their parents, who assured them that such a plan for the city could be detrimental to them in the future, especially if they wanted to buy an affordable piece of property near their places of employment and build a little house of their own.  “Why would we ever do that?” they thought.  They were certain that they could live the life of the “new urbanite” forever.  They were even more certain that once the naysayers of the plan saw how “cool” it was to live like the people in such great cities as Portland, San Francisco, Boston, and Beijing, that they would soon welcome the plan that would become the law of the land.  Oh, how they celebrated when the plan went through! “The times, they are a changin’,” they thought.

     The happy couple soon married and immediately moved into an apartment in downtown Corpus Christi.  They awoke at 5:00 a.m. each day to have time to get to work.  On hot days, which is actually most of the year, they didn’t bother to shower because they knew that would be a waste of time- and water.  They simply dressed, grabbed a granola bar, hopped on their bikes, and peddled to the bus stop near the beautiful, new RTA Taj Majal.  There was always plenty of room on the bus since most people were so self-centered that they still drove their own cars.  There they caught a bus to a drop-off spot about two miles from their place of employment.  Then, they got back on their bikes and peddled into work, making it just in time to clock in at 8:00 a.m.  On cold, rainy days, they simply pretended to be back in Portland, where they learned to carry a change of dry clothing in their backpacks.  On the weekends, they rode their bikes along the bay front, took in the events along the seawall and on the green spaces that were within walking distance of their high-rise, and enjoyed the urban life.  They sometimes longed to go to the beach as they did in their youth, but their commitment to the environment by not putting another car on the streets to belch out CO2 helped the feelings subside.  All seemed well enough – at least for a while.

     One day the man returned home to find his wife sitting and staring out the window.  She wiped a tear from her cheek as he wiped the sweat from his brow.  The August heat and humidity certainly cleansed the body, especially when riding a bike or walking! He leaned his bike against the wall, and asked, “Are you all right?”

     The man’s wife looked up and apprehensively said, “I’m pregnant.”  He smiled.  She smiled.  They hugged.  “We’ll have to get a car,” she added.

     “A car?” he said.

     “A car.  You can’t expect me to go to my doctor appointments all the way across town on the bus.  I’ll never get there in time.  I’ll have to take the whole day off from work if I do that.  Plus, how will we even bring the baby home or take him – or her – for checkups? ” Her voice cracked as she spoke.

     “Can’t you just call Uber?” he asked.

     “Uber?  Really?  Do you know what that will cost?  Besides, I don’t know if I trust those drivers with our unborn child.  No, we must get a car,” she said.

     With a heavy heart, the man agreed.  That night he lay awake thinking of Portland and Boston and San Francisco and Beijing.  “Yes, the times they are a changin’,” he thought as he drifted off to sleep.

     The next morning they told their parents the good news.  By noon, the future grandparents, their siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins immediately started filling the once roomy apartment with all kinds of baby “stuff.”  Soon, only a path existed in their trendy, open floor plan.  Goody took to sleeping on the couch because all of his favorite spots disappeared one by one.  “Something has to go,” the man thought.  He said as much to his wife.

    “Get rid of the bikes,” she said without a hint of regret.  “We can get a car today and put the bikes in storage, along with your skateboard and that ridiculous weight machine thingy.  We need more room in the closet, too, and those fishing poles you never use are taking up valuable space.”

     The man started to protest, but he knew she was right.  Plus, she had that tone in her voice.

     So, he did what she said.  He bought a car, put the bikes and other belongings that represented the changing times into storage and tried to be positive.  He just never saw their future going down this path. Gee, that’s exactly what the PlanCC 2035 opposition had said; they believed it tried to control an unpredictable future.  “Even the best-laid plans go awry,” he found himself thinking.  His life was certainly proof of that.

    The man sat among the gifts of love and expectation that filled the apartment.  His wife came out of the bathroom, picked her way across the floor, and sat next to him.  She stroked the back of his neck lovingly then snuggled up close to him.  He leaned back and wrapped her in his arms.  She kissed his cheek and nibbled his ear.  Just as he was losing himself in the moment, she said, “Honey?”

     “Yes,” he whispered with his eyes closed.

     “How would you like to…”

     “I would love to!” he said.

     “You would?  Oh, Sweetie, I love you so much!” she said, sitting up and pulling out her phone.  “I have already been looking at the schools.”

     He sat up and stared at her.  “Schools?  What schools?”

     She tapped on her phone and slid her finger back and forth until she found the site.  “We have to think about where the baby will go to school.  It would be a good idea to build a house in the school district now so that we will be settled into the neighborhood before he – or she – is ready to start kindergarten.  There’s a great preschool nearby, too.  And we could get another dog – or a pony!  Oh, Honey, every kid wants a pony.”

     Her excitement was more than he could handle.  House?  School?  Pony?  What was happening?  This was not what he had in mind at all!  He looked at all the baby paraphernalia that lined the walls and filled the corners.  Again, he knew she was right.  He decided to start the hunt for a small, affordable house that would suffice until they found the piece of property suitable for a forever house.  He called his real estate friend to help him find a house they could afford.

     “Two bedrooms, one bath, a garage, and a yard in that school district?  Yeah, we’ve got houses there but not in your price range,” the friend said when the man called him.

     “Why not?”  the man asked.

     “Well, the city’s new comprehensive plan actually drove the price of single-family housing way up – even the so-called starter houses.  Pretty ironic since the plan calls for affordable housing.  We tried to tell the folks who supported that plan, but they didn’t want to hear it.  The planners were so sure that they could convince everybody to live – well – like you live.  The truth is that nearly 80% of people still want a house in the suburbs with a yard and breathing room, something that many will never be able to afford now that fewer and fewer of these houses are being built,” the realtor explained.

     “What if we build our own house?  Maybe something near the water so I can teach the little guy – or girl – to fish.  I could hang onto my poles that the wife is certain I need to sell!” the man said.

     Shaking his head, the realtor replied, “Right now, the restrictions are so stringent when it comes to building near the wetlands and bird rookeries that you really can’t do it anymore.”

     “What about farther out but still in the city limits?” the man asked.

     “Nope.  Those regulations and guidelines to promote interconnected development have prevented that.  Gee, I guess you could just stay in your apartment, pay to park your car now that you have one, and send your little boy – or girl – to private school. God knows you don’t want to send the kid to an inner city school!  Maybe by the time the little tyke is in high school something will come open in the area you really want to live in. Of course, the prices will have gone up.”

     The man reeled with the realtor’s words.  “Why didn’t we look deeper into that stupid plan?  How could we not see this coming?  Why didn’t we just listen to our parents?  We should have just written the million bucks off as the price for learning a valuable lesson! But, no!  We had to be like Portland and Boston and San Francisco and Beijing!”  The man turned and hurried to his car.

     “Hey, where’re you goin’?” asked his friend.

     “Home, to cry through Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House,” the man said.  With that, he got into his car and tried to find solace in the fact that his little boy – or girl – would at least receive free swimming lessons.


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1987 Comprehensive Plan Is a Classic

Corpus Christi, Front Page, Opinion/Editorial

Comprehensive plan 1987

     I spent thirty years teaching English, and part of my job was teaching literature.  Now, I could have taught anything really, but I chose to teach the classics.  I especially enjoyed re-reading the pieces each year.  Like an old friend, a classic welcomes us to return to hear the same story with new ears and fresh insights supplied by our own experiences.  The Ten Commandments and the Constitution of the United States of America definitely are classics in their own rights.  They have withstood the test of time and are as relevant today as the day they were created.  Jesus simplified God’s commandments so that we could better understand them and live by them, but He did not abolish them.  Our constitution has been amended to meet the needs of today’s society, but it has not been re-written.  When something is good, we really should just leave it alone.  Coca-Cola learned this lesson the hard way in 1985 with New Coke.  It was a huge flop.  Only with the return of Coke Classic made from a formula created in 1886 did the company save itself.  Classics are good for a reason; they appeal to the people whose lives they affect.

     This leads me to the Corpus Christi Comprehensive Plan from 1987. The writers, all Corpus Christians with an intimate knowledge of the city, somehow beat the trendy “smart growth” movement of that same year and created a plan that is truly comprehensive, including all that is of real importance.  Its goals took every person and every element of the city into consideration, thereby meeting the rules laid out in the City Charter.  It is easy to understand, allows for forward thinking, and offers direction to those who use the plan on a daily basis.  It withstood the test of time and served its people well for nearly thirty years.  Should we really change the formula?

1987 ToC 1
Table of Contents 1987 Comprehensive Plan, p.1
1987 ToC 2
Table of Contents 1987 Comprehensive Plan, p.2

     PlanCC 2035 is very much like New Coke.  It is progressive and supposedly appeals to the young professionals who somehow will move in and save the city by living an auto-free, high-density lifestyle (aka “smart growth”).  In the Pew Charitable Trusts article by Teresa Wilz from April 2015, “Returning to the Exurbs: Rural Counties Are Fastest Growing”, we learn that the young professionals who once sought smart-growth cities no longer want that lifestyle. “The Great Recession stalled population growth in the exurbs. But new census data show that the far suburbs are enjoying a renaissance. They are now the fastest growing areas in the country,”  writes Wilz.

     These young professionals become migrating millennials when they marry, start their families, and start looking for a place with room for the kids, dogs, goats, chickens, and an organic garden.  Chip and Joanna Gaines of the HGTV show, “Fixer Upper” are leading the way for others just like them who want the freedom to choose how and where they live.  With UPS delivering what they need to the door and many jobs performed via computer from home, the possibilities of how and where to live are endless. Even the under-35 group will more than likely follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before them and opt to own a piece of the rock.  However, there are no guarantees – well,  except that businesses will follow the people wherever they decide to live, which creates multiple town centers within a municipality (See Fig. 3 from 1987 Plan).  The 1987 Comprehensive Plan writers seemed to know that and allowed for such freedom of movement in their Classic-Coke formula.  And isn’t freedom to live how and where we want the most important part of the American dream?

Edge cities

     “But, what about the $1.2 million spent on consultants out of Massachusetts and Maryland?” you ask.  “What about the countless meetings and hours of discussion with all who participated in the creation of the New Plan?” you query.  Rather than continue to throw good money after bad, the Planning Commission should simply suggest to council that we continue with the classic 1987 plan.  We know it works and is easily updated with a little tweaking at little or no cost, which is what Councilman Chad Magill has illustrated with PlanCC 2036.  He took the classic 1987 Plan and re-designed the package to include the ambitions and aspirations outlined in PlanCC 2035, which is a respectful approach that allows for these visions to come to fruition if ample money, time, and human resources allow.

     To devise a plan around a particular part of a city or a specific lifestyle leaves not only leaves over half of the population out, it is like getting a trendy, new haircut.  It will always require expensive maintenance to keep it in proper shape.  Then, when the person gets tired of the look and wants to change it, time and more expense will be required to undo the do.  Even with the push of Dr. Richard Jackson, a pediatrician, and Elizabeth Chu Richter, a local architect, both giants in their fields, to get Corpus Christi and other cities across the nation to take the progressive approach and design healthy communities, such designs will quickly fall by the wayside because parents realize that kids will still get fat when they eat fast food every day and live in urban villages where backyards don’t exist and parents don’t have the time to take them to the park to burn off those calories.  As it is written, PlanCC 2035 will fail to meet the needs of future generations because it is timely but is not timeless. 

     Related article:  “Why Millennials Are Headed to the Suburbs”

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