California’s Legislative Analyst claims NIMBYism driving state’s housing crisis

When Gov. Jerry Brown’s aggressive proposal to jump-start housing construction by sharply streamlining the approvals process for urban housing projects that met certain conditions died quietly in September, the general consensus was that it was a victim of powerful factions in the Democratic coalition.

Coverage of the “by-right” proposal had emphasized that both unions and environmentalists didn’t want the California Environmental Quality Act to be weakened – even if the Golden State had the nation’s highest effective poverty rate because of sky-high home prices and among the nation’s highest rents. That’s because CEQA lawsuits enable the groups to win concessions from developers and government agencies or to block projects they don’t like. In an op-ed in the Sacramento Bee, Shamus Roller, executive director of Housing California, lamented the proposal’s failure and complained about “the political gamesmanship of powerful interests.”

But now there’s push-back against this tidy assumption about what’s driving the housing crisis, and from an unlikely source: Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor. In “Do Communities Adequately Plan for Local Housing?” – a report prepared by LAO staff but carrying Taylor’s byline – the first central conclusion is that the process under which the state Department of Housing and Community Development works with cities and counties on their general plans to ensure adequate housing isn’t working. It cites little follow-through from many local governments on past promises and notes that many development plans are badly outdated and unusable. It offers suggestions on how the process might be improved to speed construction of housing stock.

Local officials do bidding of local housing opponents

But then Taylor offered his theory about why state housing policies have failed to address the housing crisis: because foot-dragging local officials are doing the bidding of their constituents.

When it comes to rule changes to speed up construction, “many local communities have fervently opposed, obstructed, or even disregarded such changes in the past. … Any major changes in how communities plan for housing will require their active participation and a shift in how local residents view new housing,” Taylor wrote. “There is little indication, however, that such a shift is forthcoming. Convincing Californians that a large increase in home building – one that often would change the character of communities – could substantially better the lives of future residents and future generations necessitates difficult conversations led by elected officials and other community leaders interested in those goals. Unless Californians are convinced of the benefits of more home building – targeted at meeting housing demand at every income level – the ability of the state to alter local planning decisions is limited.”

The governor is trying again, however, to change the status quo. In January, his office unveiled a legislative package meant to streamline the approvals of building permits and to give incentives to local governments to reduce permit costs.

Democratic lawmakers, meanwhile, continue to focus on affordable housing projects to ease the crisis. State Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, has proposed Senate Bill 2 which would add fees of $75 to $225 to property transfers, with the exception of home sales, with some of the proceeds going to pay for housing for poor families and migrant workers.


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  1. Richard
    Richard 10 March, 2017, 14:45

    Terrific article.

    Fundamentally, we Californians no longer believe in property rights. We’ve given nearly unlimited “covenant and restriction” control of your property to your neighbors through “planning groups.” The first people to live in a neighborhood (and those that buy these original properties) have the DE FACTO right to ban or severely restrict housing or improvements in their area. And they do — feeling good about their ability to wisely control everyone else’s real estate — banning “the wrong kind of people” and businesses from their neighborhood.

    In my semi-tony Scripps Ranch, these busybodies are intensely proud of this veto ability. They banned a small Walmart from our industrial park because the wrong people would come here to shop. We are a white enclave with just the proper sprinkling of Asians and blacks — and a few well-to-do Hispanics. And we are raking in the big bucks when we (or our beneficiaries) sell our restricted properties. Life is good for us neighborhood oppressors.

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  2. Sam
    Sam 10 March, 2017, 23:52

    No one who is being hinets wants low income housing in their neighborhood, not even liberals who say otherwise. California has few enough decent public schools these days, and they are found in affluent areas. Good schools support stable property values, and stable property values and affluent neighborhoods support good public schools, Mandating low income housing in more areas will only further consolidate wealth and public schools will be completely abandoned by the upper middle class. This social engineering is never going to work as there will always be those who are willing to do whatever it takes to put their kids in excellent and safe schools. Pelosi and her ilk should be the first to require that their own neighborhoods have 50% low income housing, Same goes for Mark zuckerberg with the wall around his house. Then we can talk about what the rest of us, the peasants, must do.

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Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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