By JACKSON STROMBERG |
March 3, 2023 at 1:35 p.m.
Let’s indulge in a fantasy. Imagine the California legislators and bureaucrats working on housing could see eight years into the future, when the next set of housing element plans are due. Maybe they can see 16 years into the future for the deadline after that.
If they could envision what will happen, these leaders could take responsibility and act accordingly.
Instead, we must face reality: A political steamroller is coming from Sacramento to deny local input on housing with the theory that any kind of housing is always good. And those driving that steamroller will tell you they know best.
The system has been created to build and build some more. In this reality, everyone profits – contractors, plumbers, carpenters, developers, mega investors, money managers, refrigerator salesmen and so on.
There are powerful politics involved. But the issue which should be honestly addressed is how this will play out in the long run.
The way elected officials in Sacramento framed it, building hundreds of thousands of new housing units across the Bay Area won’t provide much opportunity for first-time homeowners. Instead, the vast majority of new residents will be tenants paying landlords at market rates, or for a very select few, being subsidized.
There goes the American dream.
Subprime mortgages generated by the last building frenzy ended with the catastrophic financial collapse of our country in 2008. These subprime mortgages financed the building mania and all the profiteering of those days. It all led to disaster.
Unlike subprime mortgages back then, today’s rental obligations will probably not become derivatives to be collateralized, “sliced and diced” or traded worldwide. But the effect could be much the same.
In the great majority of cases there would be absentee and distant landlords. Tenants and city officials would have no one to appeal to except hired agents with no vested interest in the properties.
Even the remaining homeowners will find their dreams tarnished. In Marin and throughout California, the bloated housing quotas, called regional housing need allocations (RHNA), will foist tenant complexes upon us and multistory rental properties with little or no onsite parking.
The community costs incurred from unfunded mandates for fire departments, law enforcement, schools, sewers and intolerable parking, as well as traffic congestion, will be imposed on its citizens. There will be significant negative impacts on everyone’s quality of life.
The numbers are bloated. Freddie Mac estimated in 2021 that the entire country was short some 3.8 million housing units. Gov. Gavin Newsom has floated the number at 3.5 million for California alone.
A 2021 state audit found that the Housing and Community Department (HCD) has been using defective methodologies in determining its inflated numbers. The upcoming RHNA numbers are, on average, 600% higher than the numbers in the last eight-year cycle.
It does not have to be this way. Elected officials in Sacramento do not have to be so militant and combative.
State Attorney General Rob Bonta formed what he calls a “strike force,” using taxpayers’ money to beat down the homeowning taxpayers in our cities. City officials are concerned, with good reason, that there will be retaliation with fines (or worse) if they join lawsuits pending or planned against the state.
In effect, Bonta – the chief legal officer of California – has taken it upon himself to thwart access to our courts. I consider this unconstitutional, particularly when the perpetrator is our own attorney general.
In that fantasy I mentioned earlier, officials would recognize that it is irresponsible to develop new legislation and take actions justified on distorted facts. Our legislators, the HCD staff and other bureaucrats would stop imposing unreasonable, unfunded mandates. They would engage in realistic planning. There would be no more simplistic “one size fits all” mindset.
As citizens in California, we can continue to dream. Where there is responsible action, there is hope.
Jackson Stromberg is a Mill Valley resident.