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California isn’t full. We could provide housing for everyone

Karen Chapple, Professor, City and Regional Planning | April 24, 2019

California has long led the world in innovation, from Silicon Valley to Hollywood. For the last decade, it has also conducted a series of grand, and largely successful, policy experiments ranging from regulating greenhouse gas emissions to providing sanctuary for undocumented immigrants.LA skyline

When it comes to solving the housing affordability crisis, however, California seems at a loss. Despite enacting dozens of well-intentioned housing bills, and discussing hundreds more, the state Legislature has yet to identify and take the bold actions necessary to ensure housing affordability for all Californians. Housing policy seems to be the ultimate exercise in rocket science or brain surgery.

This failure is due to the inability to acknowledge and attack the roots of the housing crisis, most importantly, the many ways California communities have sought to resist change in the name of protecting their residents.

These efforts extend from early attempts to exclude certain residents and businesses through zoning, to extensive downzoning in cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles in the 1970s and 1980s, to a complex array of housing regulations and fees that slow or prevent development, to well-meant attempts to democratize development approval processes by mandating public hearings.

Ours and others’ research has shown that these practices tend not only to make development prohibitively costly, but also to exacerbate inequalities within a region. Exclusion by affluent communities creates challenges for low-income and middle-class families in accessing resources such as high-quality schools and parks, as well as opportunities for upward mobility.

Ironically, policies such as downzoning and public hearings, initially meant to protect existing residents and exclude outsiders, are now also making it impossible for residents to stay in their own communities.

A new bill sponsored by state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, offers a bold new vision to address these root causes. SB 330 would take away the many tools used by the state’s affluent communities to exclude newcomers. Cities that try to reduce the densities currently allowed by their own zoning would find their actions blocked. SB 330 would prohibit them from making development more expensive, whether through requirements for parking or design, or through new fees. It would also ensure that cities approve development proposals in a timely manner, capping public hearings at three.

And the bill also takes bold action to produce and preserve affordable housing. It suspends fees on affordable-housing developments and bans demolition of affordable housing unless the new development maintains or increases current densities, and the developer provides relocation benefits and right of first refusal for tenants, ensuring they can stay.

Aptly titled the Housing Crisis Act of 2019, SB 330 would enact these gutsy measures temporarily, to expire in 2030. We are not optimistic that will be enough time. Upending entrenched habits of exclusion will take more than a decade. Still, we applaud Senator (and rocket scientist) Skinner for her move to transform California towards more equitable development.

Co-authored with Carol Galante, Faculty Director of the Terner Center for Housing Innovation. Originally published by the San Jose Mercury News.

Comments to “California isn’t full. We could provide housing for everyone

  1. The over wellming debts creditors have accumulated over the existence of bank owned monopoly markets downfell the American blanket of securities trusted from the people to make few powerful people richer.
    Imposed tariffs and complacent border hounds deal breakers afare made Chinese money comparable to kids with a bubble machine. Moreover the past failures have divided the strength of Wall Street into a compromised venture capitalist hopscotch game were no one can win without foreign influence.

  2. Murrieta, California residents concerned as illegal immigrants are flown into town

    May. 21, 2019 – 3:52 – Murrieta resident Bob Kowell speaks out about migrants being relocated to his city on ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight.’

  3. Affordable housing is simply a way to attract and retain slave labor. It is better for market economics to work out the issue. If you want affordable housing change the laws to allow people to camp on public beaches for as long as they like – tents are super inexpensive and there are public showers and restrooms already there…

    High density living is for insects, not humans.

  4. Depending upon the data you choose for making the calculation, the human population of planet is somewhere between 3 and 7 times over its closed loop capacity.

    Here’s some of the (very simple) math:

    The surface area of the planet is approximately 197 million square miles. Most of this is water, leaving 57 million square miles of land, of which 5 million is Antarctica, leaving the habitable continents with 52 million square miles of land. Nearly 60% of the land is uninhabitable, leaving approximately 24.5 million square miles of land for the present population, or approximately 2 acres per capita.

    Without factoring in the percentage of land devoted to roads or structures, this amount of surface area is insufficient to provide the agricultural support of the population, as present methods require approximately 7.5 acres/capita. The planet suffers from an excess of human population by a factor of greater than 7.

    • Why would anyone pay to attend UC Berkeley?

      UC Berkeley has a bloated reputation! At UC Berkeley the student-faculty ratio is very high, and many courses are taught by graduate Teaching Assistants.

      I attended UC Berkeley as a freshman several years ago but the lower division classes I needed for computer science were either filled or closed.

      I transferred to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and have not been disappointed.


    Support SB 330. It would make inexpensive multiunit apartment complex construction much easier to approve, and provide legal recourse to income-based segregation. The quickly built high density projects are much more effective than the five story plus “market rate” condos that currently represent “housing as an investment for some” or “state financed housing by lottery” rather than “housing as accessible shelter for the large mass of renters.”

    It will take multiple pieces of legislation in multiple aspects of housing construction, ownership, and rental to come anywhere near fixing the problem of accessible affordable housing.

    This is a good volley.

    • Sounds a housing project!

      “American public housing projects started in the New Deal, accelerated after the war, and then largely stopped in the 1970s, when they were widely described as abject failures. This verdict was hammered home by the well-publicized demolition in 1972 of the Pruitt–Igoe project in St. Louis. Federal support for housing since, skimpy as it is, has largely been in the form of “Section 8” vouchers and dispersed, low-density, mixed housing. The actual number of public housing units has shrunk in recent decades.”

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