Californians to Build on Quicksand

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

There is an interesting story coming out of California about a local pressure group suing a San Francisco suburb over building restrictions. Sonja Trauss, fed up with a lack of affordable housing alternatives, is invoking an obscure, decades-old affordable housing law, to prohibit locales from enforcing some of the land use restrictions that are curtailing residential development:

But Trauss's new effort seems to be unprecedented -- it would be the first time that actual people, rather than developers, were using the law. And if her campaign succeeds, the implications could be huge. Suburbs like Lafayette are historically allergic to allowing more housing density, yet denser communities, many urban environmentalists believe, are the key to kicking our climate-wrecking carbon habit. Trauss's suit could upend the tidy universe of California suburbia: Google employees living in San Francisco and commuting down the peninsula by tech bus could potentially could sue Mountain View for its refusal to approve three-quarters of the proposed housing around the Google campus. Speculators could ride BART and Caltrain all over the Bay Area, looking for locations around transit hubs where community organizations had blocked development. [link dropped]
A ruling favorable to Trauss's group might offer short-term relief to Californians -- or it might not. On the one hand, as Thomas Sowell recently indicated, land-use regulations are the cause of the housing crunch, and this would certainly knock some out. But the real solution is to get rid of these restrictions on principle, as violations of property rights. Why? Because this move supports (rather than calls into question) the idea that the state should call the land-use shots, continuing the danger to private property rights. One hurdle -- a suburban land regulation -- might go down, only to be replaced by another. I wonder how many of the projects the writer of the passage above dreams about will be killed by other land-use regulations, like environmental laws or permitting processes? Or perhaps California will "fix" the law so that individuals can't use it, because "the poor" are being "underserved". Whatever gains Californians may realize by this maneuver will be built on quicksand unless they also start dismantling their state's regulatory control of land use.

-- CAV


Today: Corrected wording in one sentence.

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