How to Privatize Central Planning: Sugar Land's sweet to S.F.'s smug

#nancypelosi #texas #politics #sanfrancisco #SugarLand

Carolyn Lochhead, Chronicle Washington Bureau

Jan. 5, 2003

The sign inside this Republican enclave's City Hall -- on Corporate Drive in the Sugar Land Business Park -- tells visitors, "Sugar Land . . . there is no equal."

Joe Zimmerman, a local businessman who runs Sugar Land's privatized municipal water services, sits for a moment pondering where one might find Democrats here.

"There aren't many of them left," he replies with a smile. "Most of them went to Louisiana."

This is the home of Rep. Tom DeLay, the bullwhip-cracking, fire-breathing new House majority leader. It's a place where "country club" goes with Republican, just as "liberal" goes with San Francisco.

Here in this wealthy Houston suburb, churchgoers outnumber peace activists by roughly a zillion to one. Although one resident claimed that no one would bat an eye if a cross-dresser appeared on a sidewalk, that seems unlikely. There are no sidewalks.

DeLay hails from a world far removed from his Democratic counterpart, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who gives fresh meaning to the term San Francisco liberal. Indeed, his Sugar Land is a sort of anti-San Francisco, as homey is to hip and flat is to hilly. Just as DeLay is a kind of anti-Pelosi, and vice versa.

"We wouldn't elect (Pelosi) dogcatcher in Fort Bend County," says Eric Thode, local chairman of the Republican Party. "The flip side is y'all wouldn't elect Congressman DeLay dogcatcher in San Francisco."

Like San Franciscans, Sugar Landers consider themselves thoroughly progressive. It's just that their definition of progress is precisely the opposite of San Francisco's. Rather than an embrace of liberal causes, Sugar Landers define progressive as less government and more freeways, more development and more commerce.

Janna Golden, 14, and her father, Sam Golden practice their golf game on the family's home putting green in Sugar Land on 9-28-02. There is growing trend of installing residential putting greens (mostly synthetic grass) in people's backyards. Most are serious golfers who want to improve their short game. But it's also about fun. It's great when visitors come over and for recreation. The Golden's artificial turf plot is about 625 square feet. HOUCHRON CAPTION (10/02/2002): Janna Golden and her father, Sam Golden, practice their golf games on the family's backyard putting green in Sugar Land. John Everett

Yet far from a cultural backwater, Sugar Land is the quintessential new suburbia, welcoming immigrants, shopping centers and jogging paths with equal enthusiasm. In many ways, Sugar Land represents the future.

Here, the business of government is business, and the expansion of the huge interstate freeway bisecting the town is a chief object of civic pride. Mayor David Wallace is a youthful, lean professional investor and ardent devotee of Margaret Thatcher.

"I guess I would want people in San Francisco to know that the city of Sugar Land is utopian in every sense of the word," Wallace says. "In the quality of life, in the cultural diversity that we have, in the economic foundation, in the fact that every decision we make as local leaders is made looking out for the best interests of the people that live here."


An agglomeration of master-planned communities, Sugar Land is the heart of the fastest-growing county in Texas, the city's population booming from 24,000 in 1990 to 63,000 in 2000.

Immigrants, particularly Asians and Latinos, are a big part of that growth, making Fort Bend County majority minority, with whites at just under half the county population, although at just more than 65 percent of Sugar Land's.

The Imperial Sugar mill that gave the town its name is closing, replaced by acres of spiffy new shopping malls, office parks and verdant country clubs with names related to sugar. It is so churchgoing and family-oriented that there's not a freestanding bar in town


"You have to go to Applebee's or TGIF's" to get a drink, says Loren Koziol, a young single guy who works in Sugar Land but lives in Houston. "The sidewalks roll up at 6 unless you want to take the kids to Chuck E. Cheese."

Sugar Landers say they are living the suburban dream.

"You feel like you're living in an Archie comic book," says Susan Alexander,

stopping one night for takeout at Brookstreet Barbeque.

Her friend, Duffy Riklin, says she's not conservative, but most everyone else is.

"I swear I tell people I live in Mayberry," she says. "At night, all the mommies go out and sit in their driveways and watch the kids play in the street. The daddies go to one daddy's house and lean against the car and talk about whatever they talk about.

"I like the community, I like the sense of belonging. I can tell my son, 'Yeah, go play outside,' and I can go inside for half an hour and know perfectly well that there are other people in the neighborhood there watching him. That means a lot."

People are so sweet in Sugar Land that even when you imply that the man they elect to congress is an ogre, they disagree politely, smile and invite everyone to come see Sugar Land for themselves.

"Whatever one needs in life, it is available here," says Dinesh Shah, a native of India and the first immigrant elected to the board of the local Chamber of Commerce, a powerful Sugar Land institution. "Education, church, a good standard of living, all these things. What's wrong with that?"

Sugar Landers consider themselves thoroughly diverse. There are Chinese Republicans and Indian Republicans. Palestinian Catholics run the town's popular Brookstreet Barbeque. Muslims have a bagpipe band. Hindus are building a temple.


Far from complaining that the tech boom was despoiling their cultural authenticity, Sugar Landers celebrate their freeway as a new free trade corridor linking Mexico with Canada in a ribbon of happy commerce.

"If you think we're diverse now, you just wait," says Sharon Wallingford, a journalist who wrote a history of Fort Bend County. "We're futurists. We're visionaries. What was the word you used? Progressive."

Many city services are privatized, and the city government is bent on holding down tax rates, at 0.32 cents per $100 of property value compared with San Francisco's $1.24. A new five-bedroom house goes for $250,000.

"This is a place to start a business," David Wong, a native of Macao and the first Asian elected to public office in Sugar Land, as a city councilman. "Sugar Land is the best place, that's all I can tell."

For all its free-market ethos, however, few places are more heavily planned.

It's just that the planning is largely private. Sugar Land began as a true company town, the sugar mill issuing its own scrip, mowing everyone's lawns and picking up their garbage. The freeway that now defines the city grew from the road to the mill.

As Houston grew, Sugar Land continued to embrace a private version of central planning, initially with the First Colony master-planned community on 9,700 acres, now joined by similar developments with such tight building restrictions that one can drive by a Denny's and not know it. Architects compete in shades of beige.

"It's like the video game Sim City, where you can draw your own city and watch it grow," says Lufti "Louie" Rukab, who runs Broo