Sacramento’s Housing War on SoCal

John Mirisch
Mayor of Beverly Hills

Many normal Californians may not be familiar with the acronyms RHNA or the more mellifluous SCAG, and why should they?

In an ideal world with a rational and well-working government, they might very well have no reason to be concerned with a Regional Housing Needs Assessment or even the Southern California Association of Governments.

But unfortunately, we live in a country and state in which corporations are people and in which money is speech.  And those facts alone can turn left into right, right into wrong, and wrong into state policy.

SCAG’s members voted earlier this month to challenge a Sacramento mandate from the vowelless HCD, which really should be CDOHACD (California Department of Housing and Community Development), which probably should be pronounced k-DOE-hacked.

HCD mandated the SCAG region, comprising six of the ten counties in Southern California, including LA and Orange Counties, to plan for 1,344,740 new housing units for the next RHNA cycle which goes from June 30, 2021 to Oct. 15, 2029.

This figure is more than double the 660k figure recommended earlier by SCAG staff.  Significantly, it is also above the 1.1 million figure listed in an Embarcadero Institute report which – no, don’t shake your head – comes from HDC itself.

It should be noted that SCAG members in a divisive vote proposed a figure of 430k units for the region to HCD.  

So HCD is ordering SoCal to plan to build 22% more units in six counties than would, according to their own methodology, be needed in the entire state.

Let’s leave the entire nicety of “realism” out of it for a minute (at its high point, the entire state built approximately 200k new units a year).  One can’t look at HCD’s figure as anything other than petty, political and punitive. This is Sacramento, with its specious pro-Wall Street “trickle down” theories of housing, sticking it to SoCal, yet another example of Northern California with less than 40% of the state’s population dumping again on SoCal, home to over 60% of Californians.

This war on SoCal is merely underlined by the fact that HCD, in determining the Sacramento region’s RHNA figures used a different methodology, which correctly took on board local input, something HCD refused to do when it came to the SCAG region.

While SCAG’s Economic and Human Development Committee (CEHD), on which I sit, voted unanimously to challenge HCD’s punitive figure, there wasn’t complete unanimity in the Regional Council, which ultimately decided to accept CEHD’s recommendation.  There the vote was 48-2 in favor of challenging HCD’s figure.

While it is to be expected that the usual suspects consisting of ideologues, Yimbys and paid-Wall Street shills would support HCD’s unrealistic and unsubstantiated figure because more major development equals big profits, there was also support from other quarters to simply accept the HCD figure — perhaps not surprising but disappointing nonetheless.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who didn’t bother showing up in person, sent one of his minions to the CEHD meeting to plead for the region to accept this top-down mandate, describing it as “bold,” which these days increasingly seems to be used as a synonym for “obnoxious,” “simplistic,” “opportunistic,” “absurd” or “we don’t have any real solutions to propose.”

It’s all too clear that supporting an unrealistic, hypocritical and unfair number is simply meant as a distraction (much as is the case with some Sacramento politicians) from the dire issues plaguing Los Angeles city, hardly surprising considering how big, unwieldy, and unmanageable Los Angeles has in some ways become.

Also, not surprising, though eye-rolling nonetheless, was support for the figure from Culver City mayor, Megan Sahli-Wells, who has difficulty trying to represent a coherent position on housing, other than that she seems to think that exponential growth can continue unabated for all eternity, combining “progressive” jargon with hardcore Ayn Randian policies.  The irony here is that Culver City is a truly bad actor when it comes to housing, being one of the Westside’s biggest contributors to a jobs/housing imbalance which is at the root of the state’s housing challenges. Culver City has approved massive job centers for Amazon, Google and other major corporations, which are estimated to create some 7000 new jobs. Many of those jobs will be well-paid, and as Yimby professor Paavo Monkkonen points out, “Those people will need someplace to live.”

Yet, concurrent with approval of these job centers, Culver City did not require these corporations to deal with the housing impacts, nor did the city choose to make other accommodations.  In short, they are not creating nearly the amount of housing they would need to in order to address this jobs/housing imbalance which they themselves have exacerbated and which they evidently expect neighboring jurisdictions to solve for them. This speaks to a CEQA loophole which well over a year ago I suggested needs to be plugged.  (And it should be noted that it is largely Sacramento policies which have pushed cities to chase revenue from commercial development, while turning the creation and servicing of housing into an expense).

The Los Angeles urban area remains the densest urban area in the United States.  Yet those who point out that a never-ending spiral of growth is the very definition of unsustainability are trashed as “Nimbys,” “anti-growth” and “anti-change” by the ideologues, neo-feudalists, density fetishists, tech oligarchs, urban supremacists and various agents of Wall St.

Opposing unhealthy or unsustainable growth, however, is good policy.  Opposing the wrong kind of change — climate change, for example — is good policy.  And encouraging growth of obese humans or metastasizing cancers — or obese urban areas, for that matter — is clearly wrong.

The one-size-fits-all policies and assaults on community choice from Sacramento politicians won’t solve the state’s housing challenges, though they may very well destroy the state’s unique and diverse neighborhoods and communities, as well as create displacement of vulnerable communities on an unprecedented scale.

There are good ideas to deal with the state’s housing and affordability challenges, but they don’t involve a completely misguided war on single-family housing and they don’t lead to the massive wealth transfers from the public to the private sector that the blanket upzoning advocated by Sacramento politicians creates.  Neither do they involve forced density in already obese, unhealthy and increasingly unlivable urban areas.  

Instead, real policy solutions should attempt to address the root causes, to deal with the jobs/housing imbalance on a statewide level, to avoid the manifest destiny ideology that suggests Sacramento should only look to cram more people into the densest urban areas rather than focus on making the Modestos, Visalias, Barstows, and Fresnos of the state great.  Importantly, the good ideas focus on actually creating affordable housing and geographic equity rather than on creating new investment vehicles for global capital and Wall Street profits as per the Yimby and tech oligarch agenda.

Despite all the rhetoric from Yimbys, their Wall St. masters and their propaganda organs, if we’re going to become familiar with any acronym in a world of RHNA, SCAG, NIMBY, YIMBY, WIMBY, etc. then let it be SOOMBY: Sacramento out of my back-yard.  The strength of our state is in our unique and diverse communities and decisions are best made as close to home as possible. Yes, we need to strengthen CEQA and yes, we need to stop unabated job creation and job concentration without the necessary housing; but when it comes to the best way to create livable and sustainable places to live, communities are the solution, not the problem.

 

John Mirisch was elected to the Beverly Hills City Council in 2009 and is currently serving his third term as mayor.

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