William Fulton (urban planner)

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William "Bill" Fulton (born September 26, 1955) is an American author, urban planner, and politician. He served as Mayor of the City of Ventura, California, from 2009 to 2011 and later as the Planning Director for the City of San Diego. In October 2014 he became the head of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University in Houston, Texas. He is considered a leading advocate of the "Smart Growth" movement in urban planning. In 2009, he was named to Planetizen's list of "Top 100 Urban Thinkers".[1] He is the founder and publisher of the California Planning & Development Report.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Fulton was raised in Auburn, New York, located in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York. He received journalism degrees from St. Bonaventure University and The American University in Washington, D.C. His ancestors moved to Auburn from Scotland after the Civil War to work in textile mills there.

In 1981, after attending university in Washington, D.C., he moved to Los Angeles and worked as a journalist. He subsequently earned a master's degree in urban planning at UCLA.[3]

Urban planner and author in California[edit]

Fulton is best known as a commentator and expert on urban planning in California,[4] writing hundreds of articles on the topic, including more than 40 Sunday Opinion pieces in the Los Angeles Times between 1982 and 2009. He is the author of several books, including Guide To California Planning, the standard textbook on urban planning in California. The fourth edition of Guide to California Planning was published in 2012 and the fifth edition is scheduled for publication in 2017.

His book The Reluctant Metropolis: The Politics of Urban Growth in Los Angeles was a Los Angeles Times best-seller upon its publication in 1997.[5] Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review, calling it "a surprisingly lively case study of the battles and alliances of politics, business and people that formed – or deformed – a great American city."[6] Almost 15 years later, Christopher Hawthorne, the architecture critic of the Los Angeles Times, writing in the newspaper's "Culture Monster" blog, called The Reluctant Metropolis "highly relevant" and said Fulton is "one of the most level-headed analysts of the built environment to emerge in Southern California in at least two generations."[7]

He also co-authored The Regional City: Planning for the End of Sprawl with architect Peter Calthorpe, a founder of the New Urbanism movement, as well as California: Land and Legacy, an appreciation of California's natural environment and how it has been manipulated for human use. He is a longtime contributor on economic development issues to Governing Magazine; many of his columns dealt with the industrial decline of his native Upstate New York. In 2010 Fulton published his fifth book, a collection of columns from Governing titled Romancing The Smokestack.[8]

From 2000 to 2008, Fulton ran Solimar Research Group, a consulting firm and think tank dealing with land use issues. Among his most prominent Solimar works was "Who Sprawls Most,"[9] a 2001 study for the Brookings Institution Center for Urban & Metropolitan Policy (now Metropolitan Policy Program) that debunked myths about sprawl in metropolitan areas around the nation. Among other things, "Who Sprawls Most" concluded that the West is growing densely while other parts of the nation have serious sprawl problems. For many years, "Who Sprawls Most?" was among Brookings' most downloaded publications.

In 2008, Solimar was merged into the Berkeley-based planning consulting firm Design, Community & Environment, where Fulton became a Principal and Shareholder.[10] DC&E subsequently merged with The Planning Center to become The Planning Center / DC&E, where Fulton served as a Principal and Shareholder from 2011 to 2013.[11]

Fulton also served as a Senior Fellow at the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy[12] at the University of Southern California from 2004 to 2014, where he taught land use policy and smart growth.[13] He is also the longtime publisher of the periodical California Planning & Development Report, an online platform covering planning news throughout California.[14]

Political career[edit]

Fulton has long been active in local politics. In the 1980s, he was a planning commissioner in the then-new City of West Hollywood, California. In 2003, following his involvement in a campaign to defeat a ballot initiative that would have permitted a large hillside development project, he ran for the city council in Ventura.[15] In the election, he received more votes than any other candidate.[16]

In 2007, Fulton sought re-election as a thoughtful moderate.[17] After a successful re-election campaign,[18] Fulton was selected deputy mayor by his colleagues.[19] In early 2009, Fulton was said to be considering running in 2010 to represent California's 35th State Assembly district, a seat being vacated by the term-limited Pedro Nava.[20] However, he chose not to run for the Assembly seat, which was eventually won by Das Williams.[21] Fulton instead was selected as mayor by his city council colleagues in December 2009.[22] He served as mayor until his term on the city council ended in December 2011 and did not seek re-election.

During his career as a city councilmember and mayor, Fulton emphasized both urban planning and economic development issues. In 2004, Ventura hired as its city manager Rick Cole, a former mayor of Pasadena, California who is well known for his leadership on urban planning issues. Two years later Cole was selected by Governing Magazine as one of its "Public Officials of the Year".[23] In 2005, Ventura adopted one of the first all-infill General Plans in the United States.[24] Subsequently, Cole served as a Deputy Mayor for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and in 2015 was named City Manager of Santa Monica.[25]

As mayor, Fulton played a major role in promoting Ventura's creative economy, especially the growing arts and culture scene[26] and the city's innovative high-tech incubator and venture capital efforts, bringing national attention to the city's work in both these areas.[27]

A longtime devotee and former student of UCLA "parking guru" Donald Shoup,[28] Fulton championed the introduction of Ventura's widely hailed downtown parking management system, which included some paid on-street parking, while he was mayor in 2010. Though the parking system achieved its goal of encouraging more efficient use of parking spaces downtown immediately,[29] it incurred the wrath of local Tea Party activists, who excoriated Fulton on the right-wing John and Ken talk radio show in Los Angeles.[30] Tea Party activists subsequently qualified an initiative for the Ventura ballot to remove the parking meters. However, the measure was removed from the ballot by a judge.[31] In the subsequent election, the Tea Party candidate for City Council fared poorly and Fulton's endorsed candidate was elected to succeed him on the council.[32]

In early 2011, Fulton stepped into California's heated debate over the future of redevelopment when he was the only mayor in the state who came out in favor of Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to eliminate redevelopment agencies, the longstanding urban revitalization tool. At a speech in Sacramento, Fulton, a longtime advocate of redevelopment reform, said he believed redevelopment should be replaced with a more targeted and effective tool for revitalization. California cities, he said, "should not confuse the job we have to do with the tool we've been accustomed to using."[33]

Smart Growth America[edit]

Shortly before leaving office, Fulton announced that he would relocate to Washington, D.C., to become Vice President of Smart Growth America, a nationwide advocacy group.[34] He said he was making the move to work on a national level, to be closer to his family, and to live in an urban environment that did not require him to drive as much given his visual impairment. However, he said he would continue to be affiliated with The Planning Center | DC&E and the USC Price School and would return to Los Angeles and Ventura frequently.[35]

For 18 months, Fulton toured the country for Smart Growth America, advocating for a smart growth approach to building cities and assisting local governments with their urban planning efforts. He focused especially on making the argument that smart growth is a better fiscal deal for taxpayers than sprawl, which often requires costly taxpayer subsidies.[36]

San Diego[edit]

In June 2013, then-San Diego Mayor Bob Filner made the surprising announcement that Fulton had agreed to return to California to serve as the city's planning director. San Diego's Planning Department had been dismantled under Filner's predecessor, Jerry Sanders. Local observers hailed Filner's appointment of Fulton as an inspired choice to restore San Diego's former eminence in the field of urban planning.[37] In a September 2013 interview, Fulton called for a "21st-century reinvention" of the city and assured San Diegans, "You have a way better city than you think you do."[38] After Mayor Filner resigned only seven weeks after Fulton arrived, Acting Mayor Todd Gloria reaffirmed his faith in Fulton, saying, "He has really been inspiring and improving the morale of the staff."[39]

During his time in San Diego, Fulton re-established the Planning Department, won City Council approval for a city Economic Development Strategy (the first in almost 15 years) and three Community Plan Updates (after five years of delay), and followed through on Filner's promise to create a Civic Innovation Lab. However, new Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who was elected in February 2014 to fill out the remainder of Filner's term, created a separate Economic Development Department and shut down the Civic Innovation Lab. Faulconer had also opposed the Fulton-endorsed Barrio Logan Community Plan Update, which passed the City Council but was subsequently overturned by voters in an industry-led citywide referendum.[40] In August 1, 2014, it was announced Fulton would leave the city effective August 30 to become head of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University in Houston, Texas.[41]

Fulton said he left for a better opportunity and praised Faulconer's support of Community Plans Updates.[42] But many local commentators suggested he had been squeezed out by Faulconer. San Diego CityBeat said: "It began to look like Faulconer’s plan was to make life miserable for Fulton." [43] Controversy over Fulton's approach lingered long after his departure as the San Diego political community continued to debate the wisdom of a more urban approach to growth in San Diego.[44]

Kinder Institute at Rice University[edit]

In August 2014 Fulton was named the Director of Rice University's Kinder Institute for Urban Research in Houston, TX.[45] Endowed in 2010 by Richard Kinder and his wife Nancy, leading Houston philanthropists, the Institute was previously best known for the Houston Area Survey, the longest-running continuous public opinion survey in any American city, which was directed by Fulton's predecessor, Rice sociology professor Stephen Klineberg. Klineberg still directs the survey and serves as Director Emeritus of the Kinder Institute.[46]

In Houston, Fulton jumped into the fray, saying the Kinder Institute would use Houston as a laboratory to deal with urban issues and become the leading urban policy institute in the Sunbelt.[47] Although he declined to say much publicly about urban growth in Houston as he prepared the Kinder Institute's "game plan" in late 2014 and early 2015, he did say that growing debate over densification inside the 610 Loop suggested that Houston has reached a critical moment in "growing up" into a more urban place. Mr. Fulton's management style is to delegate all of his work to other employees, and then promote them to make them feel as though they are equals. [48]

In early 2016, Houston Endowment Inc. announced a three-year, $7 million grant to the Kinder Institute to build a computerized "Urban Data Platform" and launch three new programs Fulton had created—Urban & Metropolitan Governance; Urban Development, Transportation & Placemaking; and Urban Disparity & Opportunity.[49]

Personal life and family[edit]

In early 2010, Fulton publicly announced that he had been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative retinal condition that gradually robs those who have it of their peripheral vision and night vision and often leads to complete blindness.[50] Fulton's nephew, Eric Fulton, who is also affected by RP, is active in the Washington, D.C. area in raising funds for the Foundation Fighting Blindness to find treatments and a cure.[51] His daughter, Brooke Ezra Torf-Fulton, is a recent planning and history graduate of Sonoma State University and lived in Tel Aviv with her husband, Tzachi, where she has worked with the Hiddush to advocate for more liberal marriage laws in Israel.[52] They now live in San Francisco.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Planetizen's Top 100 Urban Thinkers," September 14, 2009
  2. ^ cp-dr.com
  3. ^ The Department of Urban Planning at UCLA is part of the Luskin School of Public Affairs.[1] which in 2011 was named the No. 9 graduate program in urban planning in the nation by Planetizen.[2]
  4. ^ City Council biography, City of Ventura
  5. ^ Best-Seller List, Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 3, 1997 [3].
  6. ^ Publishers Weekly, April 7, 1997.
  7. ^ Hawthorne, Christopher, "Reading L.A.: Growth, mega-projects, and Freud," December 29, 2011. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/
  8. ^ https://www.createspace.com/3477293
  9. ^ Fulton, William, Rolf Pendall, Mai Nguyen, and Alicia Harrison, "Who Sprawls Most: How Growth Patterns Differ Across the U.S. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Center for Urban and Metropolitan Policy, 2001. [4]
  10. ^ McLain, Jim, "Ventura Land Use Consulting Firm Sold," Ventura County Star, May 14, 2008, [5]
  11. ^ http://www.constructiondigital.com/news_archive/tags/mergers/planning-center-and-dc-e-announce-merger
  12. ^ Faculty List, School of Planning, Policy, & Development, USC
  13. ^ In 2011, USC was named the No. 7 graduate program in urban planning in the nation by Planetizen. [6]
  14. ^ California Planning and Development Report
  15. ^ Murillo, Sandra, "Urban Planner Enters Ventura Race," Los Angeles Times, June 4, 2003 [7]
  16. ^ Wilson, Tracey, and Fred Alvarez, "2 New Faces on Ventura City Council," Los Angeles Times, November 5, 2003.[8]
  17. ^ Clerici, Kevin, "Candidate Prefers Careful Consensus Approach to Issues, Ventura County Star, October 18, 2007 [9]
  18. ^ Clerici, Kevin, "Low Turnout May Have Helped Incumbents," Ventura County Star, November 8, 2007 [10]
  19. ^ Clerici, Kevin, "Ventura Councilwoman Newest Mayor," Ventura County Star,December 4, 2007.[11]
  20. ^ Herdt, Timm, "Oil Drilling Deal Splits Democrats," Ventura County Star, March 11, 2009 [12]
  21. ^ Fulton, Bill, "I'm Committed to Serving Ventura," Bill Fulton Blog, June 8, 2009 [13]
  22. ^ Clerici, Kevin, "Fulton New Ventura Mayor, Tracy Is Deputy," Ventura County Star, December 8, 2009 [14]
  23. ^ http://www.governing.com/poy/2006-Public-Officials-of-the-Year.html
  24. ^ Clerici, Kevin, "Ventura approves an updated general plan," Ventura County Star, August 9, 2005.
  25. ^ "City of Santa Monica - Santa Monica City Council Names Rick Cole as New City Manager". www.smgov.net. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
  26. ^ Kallas, Anne, "Ceremony Celebrates Ventura Art Community," Ventura County Star, November 18, 2011
  27. ^ Collins, Michael, "Ventura Mayor Tells Other Cities To Nurture Businesses," Ventura County Star, March 16, 2010.
  28. ^ Groves, Martha, "He Puts Parking in His Place," Los Angeles Times, October 16, 2010
  29. ^ "Parking Management That Actually Manages Parking," September 16, 2010, "http://fulton4ventura.blogspot.com/2010/09/parking-management-that-actually.html
  30. ^ Ingemunson, Eric, "Is John & Ken's 'Head on a Stick' Campaign Coming to Ventura County?", Ingemusings blog, Ventura County Star, December 21, 2010 http://blogs.venturacountystar.com/ingemusings/archives/2010/10/is-john-and-ken.html
  31. ^ Clerici, Kevin, "Judge orders parking meters initiative removed from ballot," Ventura County Star, August 22, 2011
  32. ^ Biasotti, Tony, "Favorites win three seats on Ventura City Council," Ventura County Star, November 8, 2011.
  33. ^ Herdt, Timm, "Ventura Mayor: Cities Should Prepare for the End of Redevelopment," Ventura County Star, March 24, 2011. http://www.vcstar.com/news/2011/mar/24/ventura-mayor-cities-should-prepare-for-end-of/
  34. ^ Biasotti, Tony, "Ventura Mayor Plans To Move To D.C. After Leaving Office," Ventura County Star, December 2, 2011.
  35. ^ Chawkins, Steve, "A New Challenge For This Politician," Los Angeles Times, December 5, 2011.
  36. ^ Marsteller, Duane, "Growth Planner Urges Less Sprawl For Nashville," The Tennessean, April 21, 2013
  37. ^ Keatts, Andrew, "Four Things To Know About San Diego's New Planning Director," Voice of San Diego, June 11, 2013
  38. ^ Showley, Rober (September 2, 2013). "Bill Fulton: City makeover-in-chief". San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved September 3, 2013.
  39. ^ Calbreath, Dean, "Planner stays calm, carries on with 'smart growth ideas," San Diego Daily Transcript, August 28, 2013
  40. ^ Showley, Roger (August 2, 2014). "Fulton leaving city planner post". San Diego Union Tribune. Retrieved 5 August 2014.
  41. ^ "Nationally recognized urban planner William Fulton named director of Rice University's Kinder Institute for Urban Research" (August 1, 2014) Your Houston News
  42. ^ http://voiceofsandiego.org/2014/08/01/why-bill-fultons-resignation-isnt-shocking/
  43. ^ http://www.sdcitybeat.com/sandiego/article-13285-face-palm-bill-fulton-is-quitting.html
  44. ^ http://voiceofsandiego.org/2014/12/29/urbanism-took-a-beating-in-2014/
  45. ^ https://kinder.rice.edu/content.aspx?id=2147485438&blogid=306
  46. ^ "Homepage : Kinder Institute for Urban Research". kinder.rice.edu. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
  47. ^ http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Rice-s-expanding-Kinder-Institute-to-use-Houston-5980020.php#/0
  48. ^ http://www.houstonmatters.org/segments/segment-a/2014/12/11/is-gentrification-of-houston-neighborhoods-a-good-or-bad-thing
  49. ^ "Kinder grant seeks solutions to 'complex issues'". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
  50. ^ http://fulton4ventura.blogspot.com/2010/02/keeping-vision-alive.html
  51. ^ Carter, Aaron, "Eric Fulton Fights Blindness For His Family," Rockville Patch, August 29, 2011.
  52. ^ Regev, Uri, "Why Is It So Difficult For Jews To Marry in Israel," Huffington Post, May 1, 2013

Selected works[edit]

Calthorpe, Peter, and William Fulton. The Regional City: Planning For The End of Sprawl. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2001. ISBN 1-55963-784-6 [15]

Fulton, William, California: Land and Legacy. With a forward by Kevin Starr. Englewood, Colo.: Westcliffe Publishers, 1998. ISBN 1-56579-281-5 [16]

Fulton, William, and Paul Shigley, Guide to California Planning (Third Edition). Point Arena, California: Solano Press Books, 2005.[17].

Fulton, William, The Reluctant Metropolis: The Politics of Urban Growth in Los Angeles. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001 (original edition, Solano Press Books, 1997). ISBN 0-8018-6506-9 [18]

Fulton, William, Romancing The Smokestack: How Cities and States Shape Prosperity. Ventura, California: Solimar Books, 2010. ISBN 0-615-39593-7. [19]

Other Resources[edit]

City Council biography http://www.cityofventura.net/city_council/bios/fulton
Professional biography http://citistates.com/speakers/wfulton/
City Council blog http://www.fulton4ventura.blogspot.com
California planning blog http://www.cp-dr.com/blog/27