Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Irrational local government boundaries make for bad governance.

Local government provides us with management of utilities such as policing, fire services, water, sewer and garbage.  It provides us with planning and zoning.  Effectively our local governments define how we live our day to day lives.   It is the boundaries of the local governments that define how well it is possible to govern the municipalities.   Good boundaries lead to better decision making and better governance.   In the CRD our idiotically drawn boundaries are leading to bad decisions.

If you look to the US you can see a lot of bizarre and crazy local government boundaries and how extreme things can get.  Effective local governance is not normally possible when you have boundaries that follow no rational criteria.  In many US urban areas the municipal boundaries have more in common with Jackson Pollock's painting style than sanity.

Map of Vernon California - notice the enclave of a street block in the middle
An example of the extreme is Vernon California in Los Angeles County.  Here you will find a local government that has 112 residents of which none of the residents own their homes and almost all of them work for the City of Vernon.   The residents live in homes provided to them by the city and are the only voters in the elections.

Vernon has been zoned almost completely industrial and effectively is a cash cow to enrich a few individuals lucky enough to be elected to council or get a job there.   Since you have to live there to run for office or vote the city council controls who the electorate is.   It is clearly not an open and transparent government.   It also means the property taxes are used to benefit the people of the Los Angeles area but only a select few individuals.  Vernon is an extreme example, other similar ones in California are Industry and Sand City.

There are also high income communities that divorce themselves from their neighbours.   Hidden Hills and Rolling Hills in Los Angeles County are two gated developments that are also incorporated.   You can find the same thing in Washington state.   Hunts Point in the Seattle area is only 80 hectares in size while nearby Beaux Arts Village is even smaller.   These are two of the tiny rich residential enclaves in the greater Seattle area.   These communities are as if Broadmead or Uplands were their own municipalities.

One of the reasons so many US cities look like such a mess with endless strip malls and such is because they are not unified cities but a balkanized hodge podge.    If we look to Lane County in Oregon, a population on par with the CRD, we see this same problem repeated.

In Canada we see a number of examples of a single unified local government and I think better local governance because of it:
  • Saskatoon
  • Regina
  • Winnipeg
  • Edmonton
  • Calgary
  • London
They are all well governed and have decent long term planning going on.   And as far as I can tell they deliver value for money though I have not gone through the budgets with a fine tooth comb.

The less connected local government boundaries are to the reality of how people live, work, shop and play in a region, the more likely it is there are going to some very bad governance decisions made.   The US example show us this is very much true.

Currently our governance in this region is far from perfect and not improving.  More and more of the decisions are not made in the interest of the residents of this region but in the interests of very vocal NIMBYs that have a lot more power than they deserve because of irrational municipal boundaries.

The long term livability and sustainability of this region is very much under threat because of this bad governance.  Victoria will never be a great place as long as we are stuck with local councils making bad decisions.
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