Commentary: Orange County Facing Same Issues on Housing – Pushing Back

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Photo by Marcus Lenk on Unsplash

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

An article that appeared in the LA Times last week shows Orange County facing some of the same issues that Davis and other areas are – a housing a crunch, a state mandate, and pushback.

The Times talks with Yorba Linda Councilmember Peggy Huang.  With 67,000 people, Yorba Linda could very well be Davis.  Huang is fighting to keep Yorba Linda the way it is now.

“Along with officials in many other O.C. cities, she is fighting a state mandate to build new homes — more than 183,000 countywide over the next seven years,” the Times writes.

“I’m not a NIMBY,” Huang said.  “I just think it’s important for people to understand that one size fits all doesn’t work, and that’s the very policy Sacramento is pushing on us.”

That’s one side of the story.

The other side is that home prices are climbing as part of a long-standing housing shortage.

The Times notes, “Many young couples can’t afford to buy homes. Low-income workers are struggling to pay the rent. Homeless people are pitching tents in places where poverty had never been visible.”

It adds, “The argument is about how many units of new housing each city should be required to accommodate. It is also about the essence of Orange County, which is becoming more racially diverse, more politically liberal — and more crowded.”

On the one hand are those who argue that “change is inevitable” and “the burden to create affordable housing must be shared by all communities, not just those that are already densely packed.”

On the other are those who fear “that what they love about Yorba Linda — the pastoral landscapes, the wide-open boulevards, the privacy — could be lost if too many others join them.”

While the particulars may vary, this basic framework should sound familiar.

“There’s this idea that Orange County is a cluster of suburban communities far away from the ills of the big city,” said Elizabeth Hansburg who is executor director of People for Housing Orange County.  “It has a nostalgia for low-density suburban development, where everyone has their single-family home, but we don’t have that kind of space anymore. We have to build higher-density housing and in a way that really violates Orange County’s sense of self.”

SCAG (Southern California Assn. of Governments) calculated that Orange County should zone in its housing elements for 183,000 new units, Yorba Linda’s share is about 2400, about half of those for low or very low-income people.  Very similar numbers to Davis.

Yorba Linda like half the cities in Orange County filed appeals to reduce the numbers, as did nearly two dozen cities in Los Angeles County – those appeals all failed.

Following that the Orange County Council of Governments sued the state and SCAG, arguing that the number of near units for a six county reason should be 651 thousand rather than 1.3 million.

The lawsuit was missed but Orange County plans to appeal.

Newport Beach Council Diane Dixon  says she wants to maintain Orange County’s character.

“Who wants to live in a congested urban environment?” she said. “That’s why people move to Orange County in the first place.”

The Times notes that Newport Beach has little undeveloped land and therefore is struggling to find room for more than 4800 new homes.  That would require more density and height.  A notion that many are pushing back on.

But others are arguing such densification is necessary in order to combat the shortage of available homes and the housing crunch that has resulted from that.

Supply and demand tells you that more houses will help ease upward pressure on prices,” said Jan Brueckner, an economics professor at UC Irvine. “California doesn’t have enough houses at the moment compared to its population and the purchasing power of the population.”

Meanwhile Hansburg noted, “They’re saying this isn’t an Orange County problem, and what I’m saying is it is as much an Orange County problem as it is a problem for any other place in California.”

That’s definitely what I see.  Davis is struggling with the very same issues – lack of housing, increasing prices, young families and lower income people being pushed out or unable to move in, and dwindling space combined with restrictive land use laws.

The one point here that I would reiterate is those fighting to preserve the status are not preventing change.  Changes are occurring.  Either you add more housing which will change the nature of the community or you restrict housing which drives up prices which changes the nature of the community.

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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6 thoughts on “Commentary: Orange County Facing Same Issues on Housing – Pushing Back”

  1. Ron Oertel

    The one point here that I would reiterate is those fighting to preserve the status are not preventing change.  Changes are occurring.  Either you add more housing which will change the nature of the community or you restrict housing which drives up prices which changes the nature of the community.

    The “other” thing that communities can do is to address the “demand” side of the equation, regarding the belief that the addition of jobs is always a “good thing”. And yet, this is almost NEVER addressed. There’s a reason for that – the politicians are supported by those interests.

    In any case, California is no longer growing.  And that’s a “good thing”.  However, politicians are still nevertheless trying to force it to grow, including the pursuit of sprawl in fire-prone wild areas:

    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/jun/29/tejon-ranch-housing-centennial-california-wildfires

  2. Ron Oertel

    An interesting article, below.  So much for “build your way to affordability”:

    Because the irony is the 469 Stevenson project they all champion is itself a fake. There is no realistic hope that its proposed developer, Build Inc., could in fact get it built any time soon.  Build Inc. is a local company that lacks huge deep pockets. It already has two large projects that are fully approved, but going nowhere. Its master-planned 1,575-housing unit India Basin Project, approved in 2018, has yet to start any work. Likewise, its 300-unit One Oak Street 40-story tower approved in 2017, has not moved ahead either.

    The reasons are the same for these and several other approved market housing projects in the city, like Maximus Partners’ Park Merced redevelopment. Construction costs have gone up 40 percent in just the last four years, and thanks to the economic disruptions of the COVID pandemic there is no hope they can go back down any time soon. At the same time, market housing rents and prices, which zoomed up until 2019, have plateaued or even declined. As a result, none of these projects “pencil out” – that is, none are financially feasible today.

    https://48hills.org/2022/01/yimby-law-sues-city-over-project-that-likely-will-never-get-built-anyway/

    It’s unfortunate that the Vanguard does not examine these issues more carefully and critically, as 48 Hills often does. The Vanguard “picked its side”, a long time ago.

    1. Alan Miller

      Seems Davis has a few of these ‘approved & never builts’ itself.  Maybe someone can track this on a spreadsheet like Wetzel does for Davis restaurant comings & goings.

      Question: Is there a point when City development approvals expire? 5 years, 10 years, 20 years?

        1. Ron Oertel

          Not seeing the answer to Alan’s question, there.

          It would be really great if Nishi’s approval expired, so that it can better-meet Wiener’s (SACOG) requirements next time. Assuming the whole thing hasn’t been overturned by angry voters, by then.

          But to be honest, Wiener couldn’t have done this “alone”. The entire legislature and governor bear responsibility.

  3. Alan Miller

    Orange County Facing Same Issues on Housing – Pushing Back

    So what you’re basically saying here is:

         Orange is the new pushing back

    Thank you, thank you very much.

    . . . those fighting to preserve the status are not preventing change. Changes are occurring.

    Deep

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