Editorial by Zrants
In order to understand what is going on with the housing market in the state of California and what is behind SB50 we need to look at the big picture. Look at the high number of vacant units recently disclosed in the urban communities where the homeless are proliferating. Look at the changes we have seen in our communities and consider the constant demand for “improvements” the public is being asked to finance through a number of legislative changes that are being drawn up in Sacramento.
Proponents of SB 50 constantly attack single family housing. Their explanations and reasonings reveal some claims that are highly alarming, offensive, and easily disproven:
- Single family homes are racist and inclusionary… only multiple family units can be built to accommodate “poor people and people of color”. (Tell that to the people of color who own homes in California.)
- Single-family homes remove affordable housing.
- No one can afford to build affordable single-family homes in California.
- All single-family homeowners are rich and greedy unless they build more units on their property.
- Single-family neighborhoods should “share the pain” with the dense housing mixed use neighborhoods.
- Single-family homes and suburban neighborhoods are bad for the environment because they increase the use of private vehicles.
These statements and beliefs appear to be the backbone of the argument for state bills such as SB50 that remove local government control over zoning by eliminating single-family neighborhoods. SB50 supporters also claim that developers need to eliminate public review, debate, and environmental appeals to speed housing production, and they need financial incentives such as fee reductions for housing projects to “pencil out”. Note that all these “solutions” benefit developers at the expense of the public.
Opponents of SB50 point to other motivations for removal of single-family homes and neighborhoods in the state including higher profits for developers, state power grabs, privatization of public assets and higher taxes for the public.
Higher taxes will be next on the agenda. After the state takes over control of the development process, Sacramento politicians plan to incentivize developers to build more housing by cutting development fees. Since someone has to pay for expanding the infrastructure, public transit, water, sewer, energy, education, security and other services for the expanding population, state, local, and regional entities will need to raise taxes and public debt through bond sales.
Expect more requests by authorities for higher taxes to fix bridges and roads and higher fees for public access through establishment of toll roads and other revenue enhancing schemes. We will hear more promises to cut traffic and increase parking options. Parking turnover will be imposed by increasing costs and implementing shorter parking limits. This hasn’t worked so far!
The regional entities established by the state, and run by unelected appointees to manage transportation funds doled out by state and federal governments, have become powerful fiefdoms. They have been given the task of developing dense multi-use projects on government-owned properties, along transit corridors. Removing parking lots near transit hubs is their top priority. Along with building and managing housing they are expected to turn a profit for to generate a profit for the public transit agencies.
The regional authorities don’t work alone. They establish public/private enterprises and do whatever it takes to succeed. This works really well for the private corporate partners. A transit authority that controls parking, transit, access, and regulatory authority removes competition.
Next let’s consider the impact of removing single-family home production in the state on state property taxes. All mixed-use property is designated as commercial property. By cutting back on single-family homes and private home ownership, the state is forcing more people into tenancies in commercial mixed-use properties.
Prop 13 currently limits the property taxes on all property including commercial. The voters oppose paying higher property taxes, so the state legislators plan to offer a new deal that sounds good until you consider the divide and conquer tactic behind the plan. There is a state ballot initiative in the works that will give voters the option of removing Prop 13 protections for commercial property owners.
Beware of this friendly sounding bill. It has bad breath when you consider removing single-family housing from the future housing stock. Cutting back on single-family homes and private home ownership puts a greater number of residential units at risk of losing Prop 13 protection. How will this affect people who claim income from rental properties, tenants in multi-use complexes, and large commercial apartment buildings, and how many people know this is coming?
Mixed use properties have a few other poison pills. They pay higher utilities, insurance and other costs than residential properties. Higher taxes will get passed onto tenants and make California living even more expensive.
There is a plan to privatize much of the government and removing public review and discourse that will make the procedures a lot less transparent. We may start by asking some questions about procedural changes that have already been initiated.
Why is there a rush to build mixed use properties in all the residential neighborhoods? Why are developers building parking for businesses instead of residents in these mixed-use properties? Who benefits from reducing environmental review and appeals? Why are retail units being included in new development projects when retail is dying and there is a glut of vacant retail space on the market?
Given the recent announcement by the White House that most of the national environmental protections under NEPA are being scrapped, why is California reducing state environmental protections under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)? The timing is uncanny for a state that prides itself on being environmentally ahead of the curve. This should give us pause to consider alternatives to killing our own CEQA process as we watch for more changes in the environmental protection laws unfold at the national level.