Salvo 12.08.2021 10 minutes

Density Cometh

House Developments encroach on Animals Living Space

California is waging war on its suburbs.

Though many Americans already suspect that California is on its way to becoming a socialist hellhole, they probably would be surprised to hear about the Golden State’s latest affirmative step toward that end. Driven by the ideology of “diversity and inclusion,” Governor Gavin Newsom has stripped away the power of citizens to govern the fate of their own communities in an unprecedented usurpation of power to central planning.

Immediately after Newsom reigned victorious in California’s recall election, he pushed through controversial Senate Bills 9 and 10 in a supposed effort to create more “affordable housing.” These laws override the freedom of the people and their representatives to create their own zoning laws, a power fundamental to how Americans shape their neighborhoods through local government.

More than 500 California towns now have a state-mandated quota to build a certain number of housing units by a certain date, divided by income levels. Under these new laws, any property, even a mere 1,500 square foot house, may be converted from a single-family home into a quadplex—essentially a 4-unit apartment building— and there is no limit on how many conversions could occur in a given precinct.

There is, without a doubt, a pressing need in California for housing. Available homes are simply not affordable, and the state is said to have a shortage of anywhere from 800,000 to 3.5 million units. A major reason for California’s housing crisis is the state’s extraordinary environmental and building regulations, which effectively prohibit new construction across vast areas of the state and impose insurmountable costs on developers and buyers. But those issues aside, the new bills do not even begin to scratch the surface of the number of homes needed. And as local lawmakers throughout the state have pointed out, ending single-family zoning will lift restrictions on where tall buildings could be located and substantially alter the character of these neighborhoods.

This added density will put an unprecedented strain on infrastructure resources such as water and electricity, which California can barely deliver to its residents as it is. This is especially true for areas whose residents are already suffering under extreme conditions of drought, annual fires, and maddening traffic clogging up the streets. The rapid expansion of sewers, roads, local schools, and other infrastructure and amenities is an unfunded mandate that will be the responsibility and burden of the local taxpayer.

But there is a deeper issue at work here, namely, the revocation of local rights through a demagogic mandate that threatens free enterprise and the liberties associated with it. The American way of life has always ensured citizen participation in their own lives through town councils and county boards, thereby giving the people control by off-setting centralized planning at the level of the state. But now, bureaucratic enforcement agencies such as the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) have been established to do Sacramento’s bidding and roll out the demands and the compliance of the laws for every municipality, regardless of the particular needs of each community. As one Bay Area resident wrote on NextDoor.com “You want ABAG to make these decisions for you? What do they know or care about the Tiburon peninsula? This should be a local decision.”

It’s no surprise then, that roughly two-thirds of Californians opposed these measures before they were even signed. The fight is already on its way to the courts, but any public opposition to these laws is labeled “white supremacy” or “racism.” Proponents of SB 9 and SB 10 consider these bills a form of race reparations and call critics “NIMBYs” who favor excluding the poor from rich neighborhoods. Yet they fail to make the case for how poor minorities would benefit by being moved into suburban environs absent the proximity to jobs required to improve socio-economic status. Moreover, the high cost of development will result in more rental units, not more homes, which isn’t a great template for advancing “equity.”

Unnaturally creating asymmetric economic realities in existing communities to foster a smokescreen of “diversity” does nothing to remedy inequality. Instead, it adds traffic jams, crime, garbage, lower air-quality, homeless shelters, and drug peddling to once middle-class neighborhoods. Enforcement of SB 9 and SB 10 is already happening at such a rapid speed that residents in the Bay Area have started complaining about an increase in garbage on the streets and homeless newcomers setting up tents in public parks and defecating in front of town libraries. Throw in the misgovernance of cities like San Francisco and the practical costs of these policies become tragically real.

Having a “one-size fits all” approach to a complicated housing availability and affordability issue engenders more problems than it aims to solve, destroying precious neighborhoods and curtailing local civil rights in the process. Sacramento’s elites are waging a tyrannical and pernicious attack on our suburbs, where the majority of Americans live. Obama attempted to force-feed a similar program on a federal level, which failed. But Newsom is getting away with this, which means the buck won’t stop with California.

The city is moving to the suburbs. This is the future of America.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

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