Governor Deems Construction as “Essential”

Timothy L. Coyle
Consultant specializing in housing issues

It’s every elected official’s dream to be in a position of ultimate power – dictating to a manifestly needy electorate what it can do and when.  Incidentally, the longer that authority lasts, the better for the politicians.   

This power-hungry desire knows no jurisdictional or partisan boundaries, either.   Legislative bodies – including the U.S. Congress and the California Legislature – like to think, for example, that the actions they regularly take have consequences across the land, in every corner in the nation and state.  

Done right, a power-play like this can do good things.  In 1992, when civil unrest overtook inner-city neighborhoods of Los Angeles, then-Governor Pete Wilson acted immediately to deploy the National Guard to keep the peace on City streets – even advising Guard soldiers how to load and fire their rifles.   

Governor Wilson received plaudits for taking action in 1992.  He did as well when following the Northridge Earthquake in 1994, he curbed single-occupancy travel in the Southland and added to a contract to repair the damaged Interstate 10 freeway an incentive that produced a thorough job completed ahead of schedule. 

Done the wrong way a power play invites much political mischief and even malfeasance.  Take the recent posturing in the U.S. Senate by Democrats and Republicans over the $2 trillion economic-stimulus legislation.  Failure to pass it won them the unhappy attention of financial markets, albeit for different reasons.   

Republicans wanted a Wall-Street-friendly measure.  Democrats held out for legislation with countless strings attached – like tax credits for solar systems and wind farms or no bailout money without proper ethnic and gender balance on a company’s board of directors.  Stock markets proceeded to crash as the stalemate over Democrat demands in Washington continued. 

Instead of being chastened by Wall Street’s reaction, however, lawmakers were almost gleeful.  Truth is most legislators – congressional and those in state office – don’t care about the impacts their decisions have on regular people.  They only care about the next election and mobilizing their friendly, supportive bases.

Happily, such pandering is not usually the case with the chief executives of individual states.  In a health crisis like the one we’re experiencing, the top guy or gal can’t afford to be partisan or favor one group over another.  He or she has to live a long time with the consequences of decisions made, forcing them to do what’s right versus what is politically expedient.

 And, so it was the other day that when California Governor Gavin Newsom declared that except for “essential persons”, the state’s population was to self-quarantine in their homes, indefinitely, he exempted the men and women of the construction industry – qualifying them as essential.  

Governor Newsom is well aware of the contributions to the state made by California homebuilders.  According to a study – done by the real estate division of the California State University of Sacramento for the California Building Industry Association (CBIA) – state homebuilding accounts for tens of billions of dollars in economic activity and creates hundreds of thousands of jobs every year.  Indeed, each dollar spent on new housing construction in California generates nearly another dollar in total economic activity, the study said.

Thanks to the Governor remaining open-minded and, eventually, flexible he ended up agreeing with the insistence of the state homebuilders’ advocate – CBIA’s CEO Dan Dunmoyer – that the job-generating construction industry is vital to the state’s economic well-being and recovery and, therefore, ought to be classified essential.

Correspondingly, Barry Broome, head of the Greater Sacramento Economic Council, is now encouraging homebuilders and developers to maintain ongoing projects and to launch new ones, as well.  “This is a great time to be strategic,” Broome said. Here’s hoping that the national economy pays attention.

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