Outside the immediate visage of regional policy analysts and smart growth boosters, the local growth control & growth management (LGC&M) movement remains extremely active, especially at the ballot box and especially in California. Analyses show LGC&M activity to be strongly correlated with state and regional growth rates—rising during expansionary periods such as the late-1980s and late-1990s, and falling during slowdown periods such as the early-1990s. Although exact numbers are hard to come by, it is estimated that about three-quarters of California cities and two-thirds of California counties have adopted some form of LGC&M program since 1980.
Their continuing popularity notwithstanding, many questions remain about the efficacy and effects of LGC&M programs. Four are of particular interest:
(1) To what extent do different LGC&M approaches really restrict the amount, pace, or location of growth? (2) To what extent are the resulting supply restrictions reflected in local real estate prices, especially housing prices? (3) Which LGC&M programs and approaches yield their promised benefits and which do not? (4) Do LGC&M programs cause growth to be systematically displaced from more restrictive to less restrictive communities, leading to such negative outcomes as sprawl and wasteful commuting?
Using California as its lens, this report focuses on these unresolved questions. In no other US state is growth as tightly managed at the local level as California. Likewise, in no other state is there such a diversity of local growth management approaches and experiences. From a research perspective, because California lacks a statewide growth management framework, the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of growth management can be traced back to its local implementation. The report is organized into six sections: (1) Recent theoretical and empirical research into the use and efficacy of LGC&M programs; (2) An updated taxonomy of growth management and growth control measures, paying special attention to the circumstances under which such measures are likely to affect housing supplies; (3) Considering the question of efficacy by comparing pre- and post-control building permit volumes between specific growth-managed communities and carefully selected sets of comparison or peer communities; (4) Using GIS and cross-sectional regression analysis to identify empirical relationships between LGC&M programs, housing production shortfalls, and local housing prices; (5) Extending the peer-based comparison analysis to consider some of the potential benefits of growth management; and (6) Looking at the spatial displacement effects of LGC&M programs.