By David M. Greenwald
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.
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.