Amid all the alarming news about housing in California, here’s the one piece of information that really stands out for me:
The average home price in the United States is about $180,000. The average home price in California is about $440,000. Not just in San Francisco, or Oakland, or Los Angeles, or Orange County, or San Diego. The entire state.
As the Legislative Analyst’s Office reported last year [http://www.lao.ca.gov/reports/2015/finance/housing-costs/housing-costs.aspx], California has always been somewhat more expensive that the rest of the country. In trying to understand the housing price gap, the LAO’s office took a very long view – charting the increase over the past 75 years. And the gap’s been getting worse for decades. In 1970 – the year, incidentally, that the California Environmental Quality Act passed – California housing was about 35% more expensive than the nation. By 2000, that gap had doubled, to about 76% more. And now it has doubled again, to about 144%.
So, why does a court ruling on a medical marijuana ban in Upland affect the Chargers ability to build a new stadium in San Diego?
For the same reason that construction of a Wal-Mart in Sonora affects the Rams ability to build a new stadium in Inglewood, which is:
The apparently magical power of the initiative process to end-run two generations of laws that make it more difficult to approve new buildings and adopt new taxes in California.
Now that comprehensive legislative reform of the California Environmental Quality Act seems unlikely, all eyes are turning to the California Supreme Court – if not for reform, then at least for clarity that will make the world of CEQA a little simpler, a little cleaner, and a little more understandable.
Good luck. Although the Cal Supremes have a heavy CEQA docket – and the justices are clearly putting a lot of thought into CEQA cases – the result is not exactly clarity.
When the Berkeley Hillside case went before the Cal Supremes, everybody hoped the result would be clarity about when the unusual circumstances exemption can be used. But the result was a complicated two-step test that actually may strengthen the exemption but requires a lot more effort to do so.
So, redevelopment is back, sort of. How much of a difference it will make remains to be seen.
Gov. Jerry Brown has signed AB 2 (Alejo), which permits cities to create tax-increment-based “Community Redevelopment Investment Authorities” (CRIA). It’s more or less the same bill that legislative leaders – led by former Senate pro tem Darrell Steinberg – have been trying to get Brown to sign since 2012, when the redevelopment agencies were shut down.
Unlike those earlier bills, however, this law makes the overt point of completely disconnecting the new system from the old redevelopment code sections in state law; and it makes no connection to SB 375 and the state’s other sustainability-based planning and development efforts.
A couple of weeks ago, the satirical newspaper The Onion reported that the City of San Francisco was looking to relocate because its current location had become too expensive. Funny though this was, I expected the follow-up story to focus on the economic development incentive package being put together to keep San Francisco where it is.
A week or so later, Gabriel Metcalfe – head of the respected San Francisco urban planning organization SPUR – published a provocative piece in CityLab blaming the city’s affordability crisis on progressive politics – especially progressive politics of the no-growth kind. Progressive San Francisco, he argued, “had a fatal, Shakespearean flaw that would prove to be its undoing: It decided early on to be against new buildings. It decided that new development, with the exception of publicly subsidized affordable housing, was not welcome.”
All up and down California – especially in the expensive coastal enclaves around San Francisco and Los Angeles – community activists have been lately decrying how the rising cost of housing is making it impossible for normal people with normal incomes to live in these towns. Yet, as Metcalf points out, most of the time these same community activists are arguing that the trend toward high housing cost must be countered with... less housing construction. Or at least less market-rate housing construction.
Back in 2010, when I was Mayor of Ventura, the city installed parking meters downtown for the first time in 40 years. Not for every parking space, of course. The meters covered only 300 or so prime spaces on Main Street and a few popular side streets. Thousands of other downtown spaces – both onstreet and off – remained free.
The problem we were trying to solve was a pretty typical one: Demand was so high for the prime spaces that people were cruising up and down Main Street, causing a constant traffic jam, in search of a space. The spaces themselves were hogged by merchants and their employees. It was hard to enforce the existing two-hour time limit, and the parkers gamed the system with such familiar tricks as wiping the meter maids’ chalk of their tires. Meanwhile, a half-block away, parking lots and a parking garage sat empty.
In recent weeks, we’ve seen a lot of moves that suggest it may be time to change the way California funds transportation, including the following:
- Board of Equalization Member George Runner has been touting a 21% cut in the gas tax as part of the “fuel tax swap” formula from a few years ago.
- A committee headed by former San Diego City Councilmember Jim Madaffer is looking at how to implement a mileage tax as an alternative to the gas tax.
- Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins has proposed a $52 annual fee on most drivers as a way to raise almost $2 billion for road repairs.
So, one of the biggest questions in planning and development today – in California and elsewhere – is what accounts for the Millenials’ preferences for urban living and less driving. Is it generational? Or a lousy economy?
“I think our answer is yes,” says Brian Taylor, an urban planning professor at UCLA and head of the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies there.
The Governor’s Office of Planning & Research is a month late in issuing its final recommendation on whether to replace “level of service” as the measurement of significant transportation impacts in transit priority areas under the California Environmental Quality Act. But there’s not much mystery: OPR has sent clear signals that it is going to propose replacing LOS with vehicle miles traveled, or VMT.
When Jerry Brown first proposed killing redevelopment -- back in January 2011, when he released his first budget -- he said he would replace it with some other economic development tool. After Brown succeeded -- when he released his second budget, in January 2012, just days after the Supreme Court killed redevelopment – his tune changed, ever so slightly. He said he would consider bringing redevelopment back if it didn't affect the state's general fund.