Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC San Diego

UC San Diego Electronic Theses and Dissertations bannerUC San Diego

Discourse Coalitions in Land Use Politics : Building Managed Growth and Laissez-faire Policy Regimes in California Counties


A significant body of literature addresses the question of why environmentalists and residents in some places oust the growth machine to pursue managed growth policies and preserve rural land and open space. In this literature, scholars disagree about the proper measurement of growth policy, the conditions that lead to the adoption of growth policy, and the process through which those conditions are channeled into political action. My dissertation addresses these three questions using qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) and discourse analysis to investigate California county growth policy. Which outcomes are worthy of study? Land use policies are particularly susceptible to symbolic or ineffective policy regulation, and yet most studies of land use ignore this problem by treating land use policies as count-level data, obscuring meaningful differences among policies. I resolve the problem by constructing the dependent variable as a "land use policy regime," better reflecting both the target of managed growth advocates in California and the possibility of significant preservation through local regulation. Which conditions favor coalitions capable of implementing managed growth policies? By using QCA to analyze the conditions that cause land use policy regimes, I demonstrate that managed growth policy regimes can be parsed to three causal pathways. The important conditions involve membership in the set of urban counties, affluent counties, educated counties, and the counties with majority preference for environmental regulation. I present seven case studies to support this claim. How are the conditions for conservation translated into actionable politics? To answer this question, I used discourse analysis to study policy contests in three counties, each which struggled to implement what urban planners call "smart growth" when they updated their general plans. I argue that the place character (or the cultural characteristics) of a community generates a discursive opportunity structure which privileges certain categories of discourse, allowing either pro-growth or managed growth coalitions to frame their claims in ways that successfully mobilize the largest coalitions. Pro-growth coalitions win political struggles when developer groups are able to draw farmers, foresters, and property owners into their coalition using economic discourse. Managed growth coalitions win these political struggles when environmental organizations draw these same constituencies into a managed growth coalition using ecological discourse. This discourse coalition model provides the mechanism that links the conditions for conservation (including community character) to the political outcomes of concern

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View