By David M. Greenwald
Much of the last few weeks, housing attention has focused on Berkeley and the implications of CEQA.
In a biting op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle, Matthew Fleischer writes, “California’s Supreme Court confirmed on Thursday what most of us who live here already knew: Neither a deadly pandemic that has exacerbated entrenched inequalities, nor the impending threat of a climate disaster, has been able to pry loose the vice-grip of NIMBYs with free time and disposable income from the levers of state power.”
He continues, saying “the justices codified the notion that more students on campus are a form of environmental pollution.”
Fleischer traces this to the 1960s and early 1970s environmental movement which was focused on a doomsday scenario of “The Population Bomb.”
“’Population stabilization’ was trumpeted as a priority, which manifested in some good ideas (family planning and abortion rights) and some dubious ones (a de-emphasis on growth in large cities),” he argues. “In other words, for a highly desirable migration destination like California’s coastal cities, ‘not in my backyard’ was viewed as an environmentally beneficial response to the global problem of overpopulation. Seen in that context, the UC Berkeley rulings’ people-as-pollution framework makes perfect sense.”
The problem however, is “[j]ust because CEQA is an environmental law doesn’t mean its impacts are inherently good for the environment. And some growth — like dense student housing near campus and transit — doesn’t need exhaustive mitigation.”
It will be interesting to see if this becomes the catalyst finally to change that law.
In the meantime, veteran columnist Dan Walters in CalMatters sees in Los Angeles a microcosm of California’s housing crisis.
The city would have to designate an additional 250,000 units and “do so in ways that make way for much-needed housing of low- and moderate-income families.”
Walters points out, “Los Angeles is not alone in being out of compliance with quotas that the state sets every eight years—numbers that have increased sharply in the latest cycle because of sub-par development in previous years.”
Like Los Angeles many of the state’s cities are also delinquent on this—including Davis.
LA’s problems go further than this, however. Walters notes, “Were Los Angeles to have its state housing subsides diminished, however, it’s questionable whether it would feel much impact because it appears to be unable to effectively spend the housing money it already has…”
Five years ago, voters approved a $1.2 billion bond issue to house the homeless or those in danger of becoming unhoused. An audit from controller Ron Galperin finds the city has 8,091 housing units “spread across 125 projects in various stages of development.”
Walters writes, “Thus, the $1.2 billion that Los Angeles voters approved will, at best, house a small fraction of the city’s estimated 41,000 homeless—a number that is growing faster than the rate of construction.”
Walters writes, “The Los Angeles experience framed in the two official documents—not enough land for housing and not enough money to make more than a small dent in the housing shortage due to high construction costs—afflicts other communities as well.”
In fact, he notes “while the state has spent billions on housing, particularly aimed at the homeless, the problem appears to be growing worse, at least visually.”
We don’t even really know how bad the problem is. For instance, closer to home in Yolo County, we received a release on Friday that the county had finally completed their point-in-time homeless count. The count was cancelled 2021 due to COVID, which means the last count is over two years old.
And the count won’t be released for at least another month.
Moreover, while the Vanguard reported in early January that the city of Davis was out of compliance with the housing element, we have had no update from the city on that as well.
A recent letter from Interfaith Housing Justice Davis illustrates just how opaque this has been.
Ellen Kolarik notes, “Our group, like many others in Davis, took advantage of the opportunity to provide public comment on the document before it was submitted to the State Department of Housing and Community Development.”
She writes, “Given the city’s assurances that it had completed the process and had met their deadline, we were therefore surprised and chagrined to read in an article published in the Davis Vanguard on Jan. 8, 2022, that HCD has not certified the city’s Housing Element.”
But even with our report, she writes, “It was surprisingly difficult to determine what happened. The city has not posted any information from the HCD about this matter on our city website nor does it acknowledge in any way that our Housing Element has not been certified. It was not until we searched the HCD website that we found a letter dated Dec. 8, explaining the issues that Davis must continue to address.”
She continues, “The December letter explains that failing to complete the Housing Element to the satisfaction of HCD puts city programs which receive government funding at risk. This is a very serious issue for our city’s bottom line.”
The city has since added a section on its Housing Element page.
Explains the city, “Since receipt of the HCD letter, city staff and the city consultant have been working diligently with the HCD staff to gain a better understanding of the comments made by HCD. It is expected that a revised housing element will be available for public review in April or May of 2022, where it will be once again considered by the Planning Commission and City Council. ”
I have real concerns that Davis is largely in the same boat as Los Angeles—not enough land for housing and not enough money to address low-income housing requirements.