By Christina B. Farnsworth. Zoning and growth are front and center issues in every city's council. Yet elected officials seldom manage to become experts on these issues, which often leads to contentious and frustrating experiences for builders trying to gain approvals. How do builders educate officials without alienating them?

KB Home thinks education is a solution. The builder sponsors an institute at the University of California.

"We take citizens, elect them to office, and entrust them with incredible responsibilities. We ask them to make decisions about complex laws and complex methods of finance. They make multimillion-dollar decisions that affect the character of an area for generations. Local elected officials need tools for developing land use policy," says Larry Gotlieb, vice president of government and public affairs for Los Angeles-based KB Home.

KB Home stepped up to the plate to help educate local officials in the California area known as the Inland Empire. It invested roughly $20,000 to help establish an institute at the University of California (UC) Riverside and to fund a two-day conference held Jan 16-17. The UC Riverside Institute for Public Officials is modeled after a program at Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government, Gotlieb says.

Robert Nava, UC Riverside's interim vice chancellor, hopes to make it an annual event. The university developed the conference curriculum, and Nava says KB Home had no control over the program. Even so, Gotlieb feels the conference was a good thing and hopes it will serve as a prototype for other regions. "We would like to see this duplicated throughout the United States," he says.