Gov­ern­ment poli­cies turn­ing Fresno into Bay Area bed­room com­mu­nity

The Fresno Bee - - Valley Voices - Jeff Reid is an at­tor­ney spe­cial­iz­ing in land use. He was a for­mer Fresno city man­ager. BY JEFF REID

For­mer Fresno Mayor Swearen­gin re­cently lamented to the Ur­ban In­sti­tute that Fresno, with the help of the high-speed rail project, risks be­com­ing a bed­room com­mu­nity to the Bay Area, gar­ner­ing lit­tle but re­tail jobs from that project’s sub­stan­tial pub­lic in­vest­ment. The prob­lem, how­ever, is more deeply em­bed­ded in other ill­con­ceived pub­lic poli­cies of our gov­ern­ment en­ti­ties.

The Bay Area’s hous­ing cri­sis is the chief cul­prit in mak­ing the San Joaquin Val­ley a mere bed­room com­mu­nity with lim­ited com­mer­cial base. Ad­dress­ing its causes are not among the for­mer mayor’s plat­form of pub­lic pol­icy ini­tia­tives. How­ever, lit­i­ga­tion pend­ing in Fresno Su­pe­rior Court high­lights causes and po­ten­tial so­lu­tions.

In­ter­est­ingly, The Two Hun­dred, a coali­tion of civil rights ac­tivists pur­su­ing this lit­i­ga­tion, in­cludes Sunne Wright McPeak, a for­mer gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial and nonprofit man­ager who Swearen­gin has es­poused as one of her he­roes. Swearen­gin would do well to cham­pion pol­icy re­forms pur­sued by the The Two Hun­dred.

The Two Hun­dred’s pri­mary law­suit is against Cal­i­for­nia’s Air Re­sources Board. Its premise, well sup­ported by le­gal anal­y­sis and pol­icy doc­u­men­ta­tion, is that Cal­i­for­nia’s green­house gas poli­cies have in­duced a hous­ing cri­sis that dis­pro­por­tion­ately im­pacts mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties in vi­o­la­tion of fair hous­ing and equal pro­tec­tion laws. That cri­sis has dis­placed mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties from the Bay Area, racially seg­re­gat­ing Bay Area cities and caus­ing mi­nori­ties to flee to the af­ford­abil­ity of the Cen­tral Val­ley.

Cal­i­for­nia of­fi­cials of­ten claim to have demon­strated that green­house gas emis­sions can be re­duced while re­tain­ing a healthy econ­omy. How­ever, Cal­i­for­nia poli­cies have ac­tu­ally ac­com­plished nei­ther. Over the past decade, 41 states have re­duced per capita green­house gas emis­sions by more than Cal­i­for­nia. Since 2007, Cal­i­for­nia has had the high­est poverty rate in the coun­try – over 8 mil­lion peo­ple liv­ing be­low the U.S. Cen­sus Bu­reau poverty line, when tak­ing hous­ing costs into ac­count. This re­al­ity is masked by statewide eco­nomic data, skewed by the re­mark­able prof­its and eco­nomic ben­e­fits that a small co­hort of Bay Area tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies have de­liv­ered to a small slice of our cit­i­zenry.

What do green­house gas poli­cies have to do with a hous­ing af­ford­abil­ity cri­sis? Law­suits un­der the Cal­i­for­nia En­vi­ron­men­tal Qual­ity Act are rou­tinely used to ad­vance eco­nomic and ex­clu­sion­ary ob­jec­tives (based on class and/or race) rather than en­vi­ron­men­tal ob- jec­tives. They in­crease costs, cre­ate de­lays, and block crit­i­cally needed hous­ing that oth­er­wise com­plies with state and lo­cal poli­cies. The statewide hous­ing short­fall is cur­rently es­ti­mated at 3,000,000 units.

Cal­i­for­nia agen­cies, with­out au­tho­riz­ing leg­is­la­tion, con­tinue to in­crease re­quire­ments to de­tail green­house gas mit­i­ga­tions in CEQA doc­u­ments. In so do­ing, they cre­ate more av­enues for more CEQA law­suits and greater bur­dens on hous­ing pro­duc­tion.

The Two Hun­dred re­cently filed a com­pan­ion law­suit in Fresno County Su­pe­rior Court. It de­tails how Cal­i­for­nia’s air board, in con­junc­tion with a myr­iad of other state agen­cies, are work­ing to keep se­cret the de­lib­er­a­tions con­ducted to de­velop new CEQA man­dates on green­house gas emis­sions. The suit seeks pub­lic records, which state agen­cies claim should be with­held to pro­tect their abil­ity to con­duct can­did dis­cus­sions out­side the realm of the pub­lic.

Those can­did dis­cus­sions re­sulted a “scop­ing plan” for fu­ture green­house gas re­duc­tion strate­gies. It in­tends to sub­stan­tially di­min­ish devel­op­ment of new sin­gle-fam­ily homes, and man­date fu­ture devel­op­ment of high-den­sity in­fill hous­ing. That type of hous­ing is far more ex­pen­sive than tra­di­tional sin­gle­fam­ily homes, re­duces home own­er­ship, and is the type of devel­op­ment that is the top tar­get of CEQA law­suits. Forc­ing fam­i­lies to do with­out back­yards puts greater pres­sure on pub­lic parks that are also be­com­ing home­less en­camp­ments.

The ad­min­is­tra­tively im­posed “scop­ing plan” also man­dates sub­stan­tial re­duc­tions in ve­hi­cle miles trav­eled by Cal­i­for­ni­ans, even though fuel ef­fi­cien­cies and cleaner emis­sion mean new ve­hi­cles are not a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to green­house gases. Tar­geted re­duc­tion in ve­hi­cle trips re­quire in­creased tran­sit use that can be ac­com­plished only by sub­stan­tial in­creases in high-den­sity mul­ti­fam­ily hous­ing. These com­mu­nity den­si­fi­ca­tions were cham­pi­oned by Swearen­gin when she held of­fice, through re­zon­ings that many Fresno prop­erty own­ers are only now learn­ing about. The larger costs of these poli­cies, which do lit­tle to achieve stated green­house gas re­duc­tions, are vis­ited upon the youngest and low­est-in­come por­tion of our cit­i­zens.

These in­ef­fec­tive green­house gas re­duc­tion strate­gies en­hance CEQA law­suits against hous­ing devel­op­ment, and in­crease hous­ing costs. They are a sig­nif­i­cant con­trib­u­tor to the Bay Area hous­ing cri­sis. They are the cat­a­lyst for turn­ing Fresno into that re­gion’s bed­room com­mu­nity, which high speed rail will fur­ther foster. Swearen­gin laments it, but it is a di­rect out­growth of poli­cies she cham­pi­oned lo­cally as Fresno’s mayor.

CRAIG KOHLRUSS Fresno Bee file

Con­struc­tion is un­der­way on a bridge that will stretch across the San Joaquin River for the Cal­i­for­nia high-speed rail near High­way 99 and Union Pa­cific rail­way on the bor­der be­tween Madera and Fresno coun­ties in this drone im­age made on Oct. 31.

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