Social Justice Effort Hopes to Abolish CA Single Family Home Neighborhoods, Slam Supporters as ‘NIMBYs’

This Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011 picture shows single family homes in the Windy Ridge subdivision in Charlotte, N.C. and the corner of a large industrial facility at the edge of the neighborhood. Many people sought the American Dream in starter homes here. But in this and a neighboring subdivision is …
AP Photo/Bob Leverone

Single family homes have been a target with social justice activists who believe that inserting multi-unit and low-income properties into established neighborhood will create more “equitable” communities, and some in California are making the case for this kind of forced diversity.

Anthony Dedousis, policy and research director at Abundant Housing LA, Jes McBride, program director at the Campaign for Fair Housing Elements, and Jon Wizard city councilmember in Seaside, California, and the policy director at the Campaign for Fair Housing Elements, penned an oped in favor of this housing philosophy.

The commentary cites a California law that requires cities in the state to present an overview of their housing expansion plans every eight years.

The law says, in part:

Since 1969, California has required that all local governments (cities and counties) adequately plan to meet the housing needs of everyone in the community. California’s local governments meet this requirement by adopting housing plans as part of their “general plan” (also required by the state). General plans serve as the local government’s “blueprint” for how the city and/or county will grow and develop and include seven elements: land use, transportation, conservation, noise, open space, safety, and housing.

California’s housing-element law acknowledges that, in order for the private market to adequately address the housing needs and demand of Californians, local governments must adopt plans and regulatory systems that provide opportunities for (and do not unduly constrain), housing development. As a result, housing policy in California rests largely on the effective implementation of local general plans and, in particular, local housing elements.

The op-ed said this law forces cities to draft plans for “meeting a housing growth target, pare back restrictions that discourage homebuilding, and actively reverse patterns of racial segregation.”

The San Francisco Chronicle published the oped that says, in part:

This year, cities across Southern California must finalize housing elements that encourage 1.3 million more homes by 2029. Next year, Bay Area cities must complete their plans to allow 440,000 more homes by 2031. These housing elements, paired with the new state laws that legalize duplexes and fast-track modest zoning reforms, have the potential to lower housing costs, decrease homelessness, expand economic opportunity, and reduce segregation in our communities.  Unfortunately, city governments in Southern California are currently making a mockery of this process, in flagrant defiance of state law. If they’re not stopped, NIMBY city governments in the Bay Area, like Palo Alto and Atherton, will almost certainly follow suit.

SoCal cities like Pasadena have started a vicious tug-of-war with the state by submitting draft housing plans that don’t meet the state’s requirements. These cities, often high-income enclaves with influential homeowner groups and few renters, are using sleight-of-hand tactics to superficially comply with the law, while doing little to allow more housing in practice. Effectively, they are treating state housing law as optional.

Over the past 8 months, we’ve reviewed 22 cities’ draft housing plans and discovered numerous bad-faith practices. If South Pasadena’s housing element is to be believed, for instance, utility easements just big enough to hold a telephone pole, vacant parcels of railroad track, and City Hall itself will soon host dense housing development. Under Beverly Hills’ fantastical plan, the historic Saban Theater and Neiman Marcus’ flagship department store will somehow disappear to make way for modest apartment buildings. San Diego, meanwhile, listed an active cemetery among its housing growth sites, suggesting that the city will literally allow more homes over their dead bodies.

The authors call these plans “tricks” to convince the state cities are achieving housing growth without allowing denser housing in more places.

They praise Los Angeles: “The city has committed to rezoning for 220,000 more homes, particularly in high-resource [higher income] areas that have accommodated little new housing in recent decades.” 

Sacramento and Berkeley are allegedly allowing modest housing growth without changing low-density “appearances.”

The commentary encourages the state Department of Housing and Community Development  (HCD) to pressure cities into compliance. The authors said the HCD said San Diego needed to change its plan but then approved it without all of the demanded changes included.

“When push comes to shove, HCD will need more political support to hold cities accountable,” the oped said. “This means that Gov. Newsom must join the tug-of-war on the side of housing reformers.”

They said Newsom had promised as a candidate to increase housing but has not done that and this is his chance to target those who claim to want social justice with a “not in my back yard” (NIMBY) mentality.

“[Newsom] going toe-to-toe with out-of-touch NIMBYs would show that sorely needed determination,” the commentary concluded.

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