By David M. Greenwald
We could be overly dramatic and declare that the future of the state of California rides on the response to the latest confrontation between the state and local governments over housing.
On the other hand, unless the state finds a way to compel local governments and communities to build more housing, particularly, affordable housing, it’s hard to overstate the impact that will have overall on the affordability of living in this state.
As columnist Dan Walters noted in his latest column: “While declaring state, regional and local housing needs has been underway for decades, until recently there was virtually no backlash for failure. However, the most recent version, aimed at adding 2.5 million housing units by 2030, a million of them affordable to low-income families, is different.”
As he points out the HCD “has embraced more critical oversight of the plans submitted by city and county officials, rejected those it deemed insufficient and threatened penalties for noncompliance, such as a loss of state housing funds.”
This pressure, he argues, “is clearly aimed at blunting the ability of local not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) activists to persuade local officials to resist the state quotas and/or impose conditions on housing projects that would make them unfeasible.”
Walters notes that this “syndrome” is most evidence in some of the Bay Areas “many small enclaves of wealthy families living in multi-million-dollar homes.”
He writes, “Simply put, their residents don’t want to have their neighborhoods’ bucolic ambience altered by apartment houses for what Victorian novelist and playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton described as “the great unwashed”—ordinary folk lacking upper-class education and wealth.”
For example, Atherton adopted “with obvious reluctance” a plan for 348 new housing units. Walters writes: “It acted over the objections of many high-income NIMBYs, including Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen. Whether the plan will pass state muster is still uncertain.”
Then there’s Orinda.
Comically, he noted that “city officials were on the verge of adopting their 1,359-unit plan when it was revealed that one of the parcels it designated for housing was just one foot wide.”
In response, pro-housing groups like YIMBY didn’t “just blow whistles.” Walters noted, as we reported last week, “a few days after the Jan. 31 deadline passed, a coalition filed lawsuits against 12 local governments that had failed to meet it.
“There’s no excuse for these cities to be in violation of state law,” Sonja Trauss, executive director of one group, YIMBY Law, said. “Cities have had years to plan for this. They’ve also received resources and feedback from us, our volunteer watchdogs, and HCD. These cities are trying to push the responsibility onto other communities and avoid having to welcome new neighbors. It’s time for them to be held accountable.”
By contrast Davis has been relatively benign in its attempts to meet state housing requirements.
But don’t worry, those efforts are going to heat up soon enough in Davis as well. By all accounts, Davis may well be in the clear for the current housing element, but we are about ready to see the battle for the next one heat up—if the council decides to put the first major revision to Measure J on the ballot.
Newly-elected Councilmember Bapu Vaitla said, “Peripheral, we can look at the RHNA numbers. It’s broken down in the Housing Element. We have potential, if everything goes very well, to satisfy a certain fraction of that with infill downtown.”
He continued, “Every development, every single parcel downtown becomes absolutely critical. We need to optimize for the amount affordable, but it’s also time to talk about affordable on the periphery.”
So he said, “It’s time to talk about an affordable exemption for Measure J/R/D. It’s time. So let’s open the community conversation. Let’s hear about it.”
At the same time, he noted, “We know that we have limited viable peripheral sites. We know that we want to protect as much agricultural and open space and habitat as possible. So we need to use every one of the sites that we have available judicially.”
He believes we need to maximize the amount of affordable, saying, “To me, the pathway to do that is to open the conversation about an affordable exemption to Measure J/R/D.”
His colleagues agreed with this approach.
So far, things have been calm in Davis, but that’s going to change as soon as this proposal actually comes forward to the community.
As I have expressed before—whether HCD approves the current plan or not, I have serious doubts as to whether the city can meet their housing obligations this time, but next time, it’s going to be very interesting.
Sadly, the community is probably not prepared for this discussion. Unlike in places like San Francisco and Los Angeles where the major papers have had numerous editorials laying out the housing crisis, the local paper in Davis has had nothing.
The last editorial was from October 2 when they endorsed Partida and Vaitla for council, and before that was in May when they endorsed Reisig, Frerichs, Mike Thompson, and Tom Lopez in a series of op-eds.
In April, the Enterprise endorsed DiSC, which of course went down with a resounding thud.
The Enterprise has covered the statewide columns from people like Dan Walters, but have not kept up with the current housing debate locally.
On a broader level, however, how the state legislature, governor’s office, AG’s office and HCD determine how they will handle this current confrontation will tell us a lot about the future of the state in terms of whether there will be sufficient housing and whether the home ownership will be affordable for Californians of more modest means.
On a local level, whether our community is willing to tweak the rules could have a huge impact not only on the future of the community, but also whether the community maintains control over its own land use policies.
The coming weeks and months will be very interesting to follow.