When historians look back on contemporary California, one thing they’ll be bound to make note of is that the state’s developers bet on the wrong model.
Endless, suburban sprawl is coming back to haunt California in ways both major and minor. In densely populated communities across the state, traffic is horrible thanks to underdeveloped public transportation (this is especially true in LA). Most residents have accepted that deadly, devastating wildfires are just part of the deal now – bound to recur endlessly until the state’s population shrinks to the point that it no longer intermingles with the state’s vast swaths of woodland.
But it’s not just the apocalyptic images of fiery doom that have some of the state’s residents rethinking their decision to settle in California. The wildfires have had all kinds of ancillary effects: In parts of the state, PG&E is essentially shutting down large portions of the power grid in disruptive distributed blackouts intended to lower the fire risk.
Another impact has been the impact on California’s housing market. In a state where stiff regulations have strangled efforts to build more affordable housing, the median price or a house now tops out at around $600,000, more than twice the national level. The state has four of the five most expensive residential housing markets in the US – Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Orang County and San Diego (LA comes in 7th).
When adjusted for cost of living, California’s poverty rate is the worst in the country. The state accounts for 12% of the US population, but houses a quarter of its homeless.
For both owners and renters, Cali requires the highest share of household spending.
As Bloomberg explains, the path to this point was paved with bad local policy decisions made by the unaccountable Democrats who have ran the state for decades. They include: Outdated zoning laws and tax laws that benefit longtime homeowners at the expense of everybody else.
Earlier this week Apple announced that it would commit $2.5 billion to combat the housing crisis in California (a sum that seemed paltry compared to the immense value of the San Francisco real-estate market). Other tech giants who have long called the state home said they would pitch in to try and boost housing.
And in many ways, the rest of the country is becoming more like California, not less. During the longest economic expansion on record, the US built far fewer homes than in the past.
The working poor have always struggled with home ownership, but in California, it’s a problem for the working class as well. In Silicon Valley, teachers are having such a hard time affording rents that Facebook just pledged $25 million to build subsidized apartments for them.
Another Bay Area town decided to retrofit an old firehouse into barracks for its cops after they started taking turns sleeping in their cars.
Even the relatively wealthy are considered “cost burdened” in California.
The so-called NIMBYs who remain firmly in control of most local governments in California are often anti-development, and successfully shut down housing developments under the guise of protecting the environment or preserving “neighborhood character.”
Back in the 1970s, parts of the state were down-zoned, reducing the allowable population density, and encouraging sprawl.
Then there’s Proposition 13, a measure approved in the late 1970s that limits property tax increases on properties until they’re sold, meaning millions of homeowners are paying taxes on far less than their property is worth. Meanwhile, a bill seeking to allow more development in areas near employment and transport hubs is struggling for support in the California legislature.
At this point, the same unaccountable democrats who have long been beholden to the wealthy NIMBYs who dominate state politics will decide whether California changes its ways. But how much faith can we possibly place in them?