Densification Efforts Like SB50 Are The Wrong Fix to California’s Housing Problem

For decades California’s regulatory and tax policies have undermined our middle class, driving millions out of this most favored state. Perhaps nowhere is this clearer than in a drive that seeks to destroy the single-family neighborhoods preferred by the state’s middle-income households.

SB50, introduced by state Sen. Scott Wiener, would allow division of existing houses to duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes “by right” in single-family neighborhoods. Further, higher density apartments could be built-in single-family neighborhoods close to transit. This could lead to significant house value losses by families for whom their home is their greatest single asset.

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Clippers Offer A Better Model For SoCal Than The Lakers

This year’s basketball season, with the collapse of the Lakers and the surprising rise of the Clippers, poses a metaphor for the region. On the one hand, there’s the Laker obsession with the “star system” and impressing outsiders, notably on the East Coast. The Clipper model, reflecting a culture of hard work and teamwork, relies not only on celebrity but the raising of often obscure people into prominence.

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Candidate of Big Tech

In the free-form, roller derby race for the Democratic presidential nomination, few candidates are better positioned than California’s Senator Kamala Harris. She is a fresh and attractive mid-fifties face, compared with septuagenarian frontrunners Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, or the aging progressive Elizabeth Warren. Part Asian-Indian, part Afro-Caribbean, and female, Harris seems the frontrunner in the intersectionality sweepstakes that currently largely defines Democratic politics. Yet the national obsession with ethnicity and novelty obscures the more important reality: Harris is also the favored candidate of the tech and media oligarchy now almost uniformly aligned with the Democratic Party. Read more

The Opium of California

The current frenzy of new IPOs — Uber, Lyft, Slack, Postmates, Pinterest and Airbnb — seems destined to reinforce progressive notions that California represents the future not just for the state, but the nation. It will certainly reinforce California’s fiscal dependency on tech-dominated elites — half of the state’s income taxes come from people making over $500,000 a year — and provide a huge potential multi-billion dollar windfall for the state treasury.

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California’s Self-Created Future Energy Crisis

In much of the country a powerful energy boom is providing a serious stimulus to economic growth. But in California, where fossil fuels are considered about toxic as tobacco, we are lurching toward an anticipated energy shortage that will further exacerbate the state’s already deep geographic and class divisions.

California, in a typical feat of “virtue signaling,” has committed the state to getting half of its electrical power from renewables such as wind and solar, up from 16 percent today, within the next decade. This drive has meant the rapid abandonment of electricity generated by nuclear power as well as natural, gas which together comprised nearly 70 percent of all electricity production in 2015.

This may not end well. California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Picker suggested recently that we could soon return “the kind of crisis we faced in 2000 and 2001.” The rapid abandonment of existing reliable energy sources makes the state, in the estimate of the Institute for Energy Research, “vulnerable to rolling blackouts.”

An electric future without electricity?

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s recent decision to not invest in L.A.’s existing natural-gas plants took place against the advice of staff at the Department of Water and Power. Silly realists, they worried about the ability of the city to generate all its power off of renewable sources, which tend to be unreliable and intermittent. Cold weather this year already stressed the natural gas supplies of the city.

If the mayor insists on transforming Los Angeles into a “green” paradise, expect much higher prices, and greater energy instability. California is already the second most expensive state for energy in the continental U.S. Similar policies have been responsible for high energy prices, and little greenhouse gas reductions, in such diverse places as Germany and Australia.

This is occurring, remarkably enough, as our political leaders commit to forcing more Californians to electrify everything — our heating and cooling systems as well as our cars. To meet the demand generated by electric cars alone, according to one recent estimate, would require 50 percent more electricity than today. This is occurring as we are not adding capacity but stripping it away from reliable nuclear and natural gas sources.

Creating dependency

The price of our leaders’ green virtue will fall particularly hard on working-class Californians who already suffer the nation’s highest rate of people living in poverty. They also tend to live in less-temperate geographies such as the Inland Empire, the high desert and the Central Valley. Expect the recent moves to expand the ranks of the million Californians who suffer from “energy poverty,” defined as spending 10 percent or more of their household income on energy-related expenses.

Our economic dependency is worsened by the fact that California, once a major energy exporter, has adopted a bizarre policy that restricts not only local production but restricts imports from places such as North Dakota and Texas. Instead of embracing these Trump-leaning states, our leaders seem happier to get most of our crude oil shipped in forward-looking despotisms like Saudi Arabia.

There’s a cost to this. Last year other regions added over 130,000 energy jobs, most of them high-paying, and mostly union, while our green leaders cheer on the continued elimination of such work here. This may seem fine to people working at Apple, Google, Facebook and in Hollywood, who make so much that high prices barely impact their lavish lifestyles, but may prove more damaging to blue-collar workers who either drill or refine energy, or work in industries dependent on reliable, affordable electricity. This is one reason why manufacturing in California last year grew less than one fourth the rate of the rest of the country, one-sixth that of Texas and one-tenth of neighboring Arizona and Nevada.

The Green New Deal: Class warfare and virtue signaling

Ultimately, California’s energy policies reinforce the class and geographic bias that increasingly defines our state. Firms such as Apple boast of their solar-powered offices while using servers in energy-producing states and making products in Chinese factories reliant on coal. Generally new solar facilities, located far away from the coastal enclaves that demand them, gobble up land and kill wildlife; San Bernardino County recently restricted new solar “farms” due to such environmental concerns.

Nor is this policy doing much for the climate. Increasingly almost all new greenhouse gas emission come from countries such as China and India, which seem content to continue boosting fossil fuels. We are not even out-performing other states in reducing greenhouse gases: California ranks 40th in per capita GHG reductions among the states since 2007. Our biggest energy accomplishment may be boosting the self-esteem of the ruling caste of oligarchs, the political apparat and state-funded bureaucrats.

Less pleased will be most Californians who spend extra dollars on heating and cooling their homes, driving to work or working in businesses dependent on power. But until they are willing to say no to their self-congratulatory overlords, we will continue to work overtime to make California safe for economic feudalism.

Homepage photo credit: Downtowngal [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

This article first appeared in The Orange County Register.

Joel Kotkin is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. He authored The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, published in 2016 by Agate. He is also author of The New Class Conflict, The City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He is executive director of NewGeography.com and lives in Orange County, CA.

California’s Message: You Built That, Now Get Out!

The people who build our homes increasingly can no longer afford them. As the state elite and their academic cheering crew celebrate our progressive boom, even the most skilled, unionized construction workers, notes an upcoming study, cannot afford to live anywhere close to the state’s major job centers.

In fact, notes the study, soon to be published by Chapman University, not a single unionized construction worker can afford a median-priced house in any of the major coastal counties, including Orange, Los Angeles, San Mateo, San Francisco, Santa Clara, San Diego, Alameda, Sonoma and Napa. Even with incomes averaging over $73,000 annually, notes author and economist Dr. John Husing, most can afford median-priced homes only in the further reaches of the Central Valley or the Inland Empire, requiring huge commutes.

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This Train Won’t Leave the Station

Governor Gavin Newsom has canceled the bulk of the state’s long-proposed high-speed line between Los Angeles and San Francisco, leaving only a tail of the once-grand project—a connection between the Central Valley’s Merced and Bakersfield, not exactly major metropolitan areas. “Let’s be real,” Newsom said in his first State of the State address. “The project, as currently planned, would cost too much and take too long. There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency.” The project’s cost, originally pegged at $33 billion, ballooned over the last decade to an estimated $77 billion (or maybe as high as $98 billion), with little reason to assume that the cost inflation would end there. Read more

Restoring the California Dream, Not Nailing Its Coffin

Virtually everyone, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, is aware of the severity of California’s housing crisis. The bad news is that most proposals floating in Sacramento are likely to do very little to address our housing shortage.

Newsom has promised to have 3.5 million homes built over the next seven years to solve the problem. That is, conservatively stated, more than 2.6 million that would be built at the current rate of construction.
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Gentrification is Failing in Los Angeles

If Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti runs for president, he will no doubt point to the high-rises that have transformed downtown L.A. into something of a hipster haven. He could also point to fevered dense development, both planned and already in process, spreading across the Los Angeles basin, particularly near transit stops, as well as an increasingly notable art scene.

Yet for all the changes in the city, have things improved for most Angelenos? Sadly, the answer is no. For all the speculative capital pouring into the city from China and elsewhere, the L.A. area suffers the highest levels of crowding, the greatest levels of poverty, the least affordable housing, the lowest homeownership rates and the second-largest concentration of homeless in the nation.

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Emmanuel Newsom?

A youthful and handsome appearance, the blessings of the autocrats and clerics of our times, and a fawning media — all these belonged to French President Emmanuel Macron just a year ago. He was praised as everything from the “new leader of the Free World” to Europe’s Reagan.

Today Macron’s presidency is adrift, paralyzed by grassroots opposition to his policies — mostly from the middle and working classes — and a popularity rating about half of that suffered by Donald Trump. Is this the fate that awaits our new governor, Gavin Newsom?

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