By David M. Greenwald
Record high housing prices. Shortages of both for sale and rental housing. M. Nolan Gray, the research director for California YIMBY and a professional city planner, is the author of the book, Arbitrary Lines: How Zoning Broke the American City and How to Fix It.
Gray cited data that home prices fell slightly from May to June of this year, but overall median home prices still are up another hundred thousand over where they were a year ago.
Gray in a recent op-ed in the Daily Breeze notes, “Even with the recent dip, housing costs in the Golden State are at all-time highs, a crisis that has kicked homelessness into overdrive and forced an estimated 173,000 Californians to leave the state.”
He argues, “But the truth is that Southern California is unaffordable, stagnant, segregated and sprawling by design.”
Gray believes that much of the housing problems are attributable to the result of a century of bad zoning policy.
He writes that this particularly true in “the most high-opportunity areas of the region.”
Gray notes “arbitrary rules like minimum lot sizes force the construction of fewer, more expensive homes, effectively allowing the state to segregate cities based on income.” He adds “for all of Southern California’s egalitarian ambitions, these segregationist laws are still on the books and enforced across the region.”
Traffic is also exacerbated by poor planning and zoning rules.
He writes, “If prices are any indication, many Californians might like to ditch their car and live in walkable neighborhoods. Yet in nearly every municipality in Southern California, it’s illegal to build shops without a parking lot or apartments without a parking garage, even in areas where transit is easily accessible.”
He cites Donald Shoup of UCLA, who argues that these mandates “can add as much as $80,000 to the cost of a new home, all while adding to the region’s traffic woes.”
These rules have pushed new growth in the region toward “far-flung exurbs” such as the Mojave. The result is “Southern California is now the national leader in grueling, 90-minute ‘supercommutes.’”
We have noted that our own planning rules in Davis have been ostensibly designed to protect open space and agricultural land. We are also mindful of climate change and GHG emissions, and yet those very policies are forcing commutes to UC Davis which is adding to the VMT. So we are harming our environment in order to preserve our lifestyle.
For Gray, he argues that “these destructive zoning policies are a choice.”
He notes recent efforts to scale back on parking mandates and build more ADUs.
He writes, “These reforms mark important progress, reining in the worst excesses of zoning. But why not take it a step further? The California Dream isn’t quite dead yet, but if we are going to keep it alive, it’s time for deeper conversations about what we want out of city planning.
“In a state as big and complex as ours, there are few policy panaceas,” he writes. “But if we want to build an affordable, thriving, integrated and sustainable Southern California, moving beyond zoning wouldn’t be a bad start.”
The state has been starting to look at zoning. They have attempted to prioritize housing near transit. They have also attempted to start cutting back on single-family zoning to allow more multi-unit housing in formerly exclusive single-family neighborhoods. But as we have seen at the state level, those reforms are modest and the pushback is severe.