Saddleback College sidewalk issues persist

One example of issues related to the need for sidewalks to help pedestrians is the pictured dirt pathway from the campus to the main thoroughfare at Marguerite Parkway

An expanse of parking lots marks the edge of the Saddleback campus. Students march past rows of parking spaces as they enter. There seems to be an issue with access to campus sidewalks and other walkways.

Mobility presents an issue for students, especially those with disabilities, at Saddleback. Incomplete sidewalks and limited bike racks make campus travel difficult, and participation in campus culture often necessitates a car. Jake Hoiseth, urban design major and president of the Saddleback Urbanism club, seeks change.

“If you look on the side of the street, there are no sidewalks,” Hoiseth said. Because some people drive dangerously on campus, this can be a problem.

Even though the Urbanism club has not been designated an official on-campus club, The club’s immediate focuses on small changes to campus design: Raised crosswalks, more sidewalks, and more bike racks are things Hoiseth said are “sorely needed”.

Saddleback’s design can be contextualized within the broader issue of city design. Urbanism, he said, is a school of thought for designing cities. It’s pedestrian-focused: The philosophy centers people in its designs, encouraging pedestrian interaction with each other and their environments.

The way we build our cities has a direct impact on how students view places like schools. Saddleback’s mobility issues are things Hoiseth traces back to car dependency.

“Parking has always been a problem,” he said. “Parking will always be a problem for as long as the majority of students drive to campus.”

City designs present a feedback loop that reinforces car dependency, Hoiseth says. Many cities, including those in Orange County, are designed for car travel.

Public amenities such as public transit are difficult to access. A 2017 State of OC report by the Orange County Transportation Authority revealed a 37% decline in bus ridership. In the US, a 2017 American Community Survey estimate revealed that only 0.6% of all workers ride bikes to work.

Car dependency additionally encourages cities to expand outward, further necessitating car travel and contributing to urban sprawl.

“When you remove urban amenities like public transit, people drive more,” Hoiseth said. “When people drive more, there’s more traffic. And when there’s more traffic, people want to drive more where there’s less traffic, which means expanding our cities outwards, contributing to urban sprawl.”

The Urbanism club encourages long-term initiatives to combat urban sprawl. One of them, Hoiseth says, is encouraging the building of student housing.

Low housing density characterizes urban sprawl, according to Britannica. When populations increase, cities expand, needing more land to accommodate more homes. This increases the distances needed to travel between homes and places like work, further necessitating car travel as homes become further away from public amenities.

Mission Viejo’s housing density is currently low. A Mission Viejo 2021-2029 Housing Element report revealed that in 2020, single-family homes made up 83.1% of all residential zoning in the city.

“We need to update zoning codes to make it so people can build up,” Hoiseth said.

California Senate Bill 9, enacted Jan. 1, 2022, ended zoning codes that banned families from building more than one house on each parcel of land.

This was a positive stride, Hoiseth said. The bill would allow residents in cities like Mission Viejo to build more housing units on their land, potentially increasing housing density. This may limit the city’s need to expand in order to build more homes for an increasing population.

However, a Jan. 2023 analysis by UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation found limited Senate Bill 9 usage in cities where these housing unit projects would be most financially feasible. Los Angeles alone received 28 applications for splitting housing lots by November 2022. none of which were approved.

City design problems run inherent within suburbs, Mission Viejo included. Car dependency, Hoiseth says, has left long-lasting social impacts on cities where cars are prioritized.

“You can put as many chairs and games and whatever on the quad, but as long as people are not going to treat it as a campus and more as a transitional place…people are not going to stay,” Hoiseth said.