Amid Climate and Housing Crises, Cities Struggle To Place Housing Near Transit San Bernardino County, Calif., is creating a commuter train that reaches the small city of Redlands. While good for the environment, some residents worry it will undo the city's slow growth measures.

Amid Climate And Housing Crises, Cities Struggle To Place Housing Near Transit

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LEILA FADEL, HOST:

A debate over how to grow and whether to grow is roiling a small city east of Los Angeles. Like many other small-but-growing cities, Redlands, Calif., is grappling with both population increases and poorer air quality. From member station KVCR, Benjamin Purper reports that Redlands is figuring out how to change the way people get around without reshaping the character of the city.

BENJAMIN PURPER, BYLINE: Redlands is known for its orange groves, its Victorian homes and its small town feel. About 75,000 people live here, but it's expected to get a whole lot bigger.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)

FADEL: Construction crews at the historic Santa Fe Depot downtown are installing a new train that will connect Redlands to the much larger city of San Bernardino to the west and even further west to Los Angeles. The depot is part of what the city is calling a transit village, 1 of 3 areas where it's trying to concentrate development in hopes of creating livable, walkable communities, rather than ones where people drive all the time.

PAUL FOSTER: It's the core intention of transit-oriented development is to reduce the carbon footprint.

FOSTER: That's Redlands Mayor Paul Foster. He says transit-oriented development, which is designed to increase density around transit stations, will help Redlands handle population growth and carbon emissions.

FOSTER: It's to get people out of their vehicles and to walk because all of their needs are within walking or biking distance.

PURPER: Residents are voting in March on a key part of this project, which would allow taller, denser residential buildings - apartments and condos - in these transit villages. But the problem is this - what people are voting on currently has no height limits. So now an area that has a two-story height restriction could theoretically end up with buildings of 10 stories or higher. But the mayor says he wouldn't allow that to happen.

FOSTER: When you go to the ballot box and you elect somebody and the person you support is elected, there is an inferred commitment to that person that you're going to trust them.

LANE SCHNEIDER: I think that it will really change Redlands forever. We'll never be able to get it back.

PURPER: Resident Lane Schneider is somebody who doesn't trust the mayor. She says consolidating development downtown contradicts Redlands' slow-growth measures.

SCHNEIDER: The reason those standards were put in were because people wanted to keep Redlands a town with small-town character. And if we take out some of those things such as height limitations, density limitations, then we've lost that.

PURPER: And the evidence that people will actually get out of their cars is mixed, says Genevieve Giuliano. She's a professor of urban planning at the University of Southern California.

GENEVIEVE GIULIANO: A transit-oriented development in Washington, D.C., is something very different from a transit-oriented development in Redlands.

PURPER: Giuliano says this debate plays out in a lot of small cities where residents chafe against the idea of concentrating development in one spot.

GIULIANO: It's very hard to change existing communities, especially when they're affluent and people are very active politically. It's a challenge.

PURPER: And it's a challenge that Redland City Council member Toni Momberger understands. She supports transit-oriented development, but she thinks there should be some concrete height limitations.

TONI MOMBERGER: And I want to say, OK, what changes do we need to make? What changes are coming whether we like it or not? And how can we be good shepherds of that change?

PURPER: Momberger says growth should be handled smartly because there are some things everyone in the city agrees on. They don't want development to run amuck, and they need to improve air quality. For NPR News, I'm Benjamin Purper in Redlands.

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