Gen­er­a­tional conf lict

The Buffalo News - - NATIONAL NEWS -

The de­bate is forc­ing Cal­i­for­nia to con­sider the forces that have long shaped this state. Many peo­ple were drawn here by its nat­u­ral beauty and the prospect of low-den­sity, open-sky liv­ing. They have done what they could to pro­tect that life. That has now run up against a grow­ing gen­er­a­tional tide of anger and re­sent­ment, from younger peo­ple strug­gling to find an af­ford­able place to live as well as from younger elected of­fi­cials, such as Mayor Eric M. Garcetti of Los An­ge­les, who ar­gue that com­mu­ni­ties have been fail­ing in what they ar­gue is a shared obli­ga­tion.

For the past sev­eral decades, Cal­i­for­nia has had a process that sets a num­ber of hous­ing units, in­clud­ing low-in­come units, that each city should build over the next sev­eral years based on pro­jected growth. Wiener’s bill tar­gets cities that have lagged on build­ing by al­low­ing de­vel­op­ers who pro­pose projects in those places to by­pass the var­i­ous lo­cal de­sign and en­vi­ron­men­tal re­views that slow down con­struc­tion be­cause they can be ap­pealed and lit­i­gated for years.

The bill ap­plies only to projects that are al­ready within a city’s plans: If the project were higher or denser than cur­rent zon­ing laws al­low, it would still have to go through the City Coun­cil. But by tak­ing much of the re­view power away from lo­cal govern­ments, the bill aims to ramp up hous­ing pro­duc­tion by mak­ing it harder to kill, de­lay or shrink projects in places that have built the fewest.

It is hard to say ex­actly which projects might ben­e­fit if the var­i­ous bills were passed, since it’s im­pos­si­ble to know which projects lo­cal govern­ments might re­ject in the fu­ture. But there are var­i­ous ex­am­ples where it might have pushed a de­vel­op­ment along.

In Los Gatos, about 60 miles south of San Fran­cisco, for in­stance, a lon­grun­ning dis­pute over a pro­posed de­vel­op­ment for 320 homes that the city re­jected led to a law­suit by the de­vel­oper, which re­sulted in a judge di­rect­ing the city to re­con­sider the plans. Also, cities reg­u­larly make de­vel­op­ments smaller than their zon­ing al­lows, some­thing that grad­u­ally chips away at fu­ture hous­ing pro­duc­tion.

Cal­i­for­nia is the tough­est mar­ket for first-time home­buy­ers and the cost of hous­ing is be­yond reach for al­most all of this state’s low-in­come pop­u­la­tion. De­spite hav­ing some of the high­est wages in the na­tion, the state also has the high­est ad­justed poverty rate.

And Propo­si­tion 13, the sweep­ing voter ini­tia­tive passed in 1978 that capped­prop­er­ty­taxes,has­made­things worse: It had the ef­fect of shrink­ing the hous­ing stock by en­cour­ag­ing home­own­ers to hold on to prop­er­ties to take ad­van­tage of the low taxes.

“Cal­i­for­nia is a beau­ti­ful place with great weather and a ter­rific econ­omy,” said Issi Romem, the chief econ­o­mist with BuildZoom, a San Fran­cisco com­pany that helps home­own­ers find con­trac­tors. “To ac­com­mo­date all those peo­ple you need to build a lot, and the state’s big metro ar­eas haven’t since the early ’70s. To catch up, cities would need to build hous­ing in a way that they haven’t in two gen­er­a­tions.”

Coastal cities – which tend to have the worst hous­ing prob­lems – have the most scarce land. Still, economists say, the high cost of all hous­ing is first and fore­most the re­sult of a fail­ure to build. The state has added about 311,000 hous­ing units over the past decade, far short of what economists say is needed.

“Cities have proven time and time again that they will not fol­low their own zon­ing rules,” said Brian Han­lon, pol­icy di­rec­tor of the San Fran­cisco Yimby Party, a hous­ing ad­vo­cacy group. “It’s time for the state to strengthen their own laws so that ad­vo­cates can hold cities ac­count­able.”

Still, few elected of­fi­cials are ea­ger to risk com­mu­nity anger by forc­ing through con­struc­tion that would, say, put a 10-story apart­ment build­ing at the edge of a neigh­bor­hood of sin­gle­fam­ily homes. That has turned Cal­i­for­nia into a state of iso­lated and ar­guably self-in­ter­ested is­lands.

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