Refuting Claims to California's "War on Suburbia"

Josh Stephens takes aim at the provocative claims made by Wendell Cox, "the outspoken libertarian urban scholar" in a recent essay in the Wall Street Journal, titled "California Declares War on Suburbia".

In a point-by-point refutation of the claims made by Cox in his recent piece, Stephens defends two landmark state laws that promote compact development patterns for the purpose of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which Cox blames for raising housing prices and driving out residents.

To Cox's claim that, "Since 2000 more than 1.6 million people have fled, and my own research as well as that of others points to high housing prices as the principal factor."

Stephens retorts that, "SB 375 and AB 32 did not pass until 2008 and 2006, respectively. In the first half of the 2000s, developers could not build homes fast enough in California. So, yes, it must be the climate change regulations and not the incredible demand for housing that has driven prices up."

To Cox's vision of "hyperdensity" development being forced upon the state by planners, Stephens replies, "'Hyperdensity'? Hyperdensity is Hong Kong. It's Mumbai. It's a Hunger Games screening on opening night. The notion that Cox thinks any place in California could ever be hyperdense is enough to forever disregard him. (Ironically, I don't actually want to disregard him. I like a good contrarian.)"

In conclusion, Stephens notes that, "Surely SB 375 and its SCS's have their flaws. But if California is going to absorb millions of new residents, reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and be anything less than a snarled hellhole a generation from now, then it needs to do something. For now, SB 375 is that something, and spreading falsehoods and half-truths about it will not help."

Full Story: Wendell Cox Declares War On Regional Planning, Common Sense

Comments

Comments

Irvin Dawid's picture
Correspondent

Cox's piece is nothing more than an "anti-density" tirade

It's good to read Josh Stephens addressing Cox's points. Stephens comes to the defense of AB 32 and SB 375 as if there's anything Cox dislikes more than density, it's regional plans. And I truly appreciated reading:
"To Cox’s credit, he never denigrates the mission of reducing emissions and greenhouse gases. At least he shares that goal with the fact-believing community. I wish, though, that he had more to offer. Surely SB 375 and its SCS's have their flaws. But if California is going to absorb millions of new residents, reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and be anything less than a snarled hellhole a generation from now, then it needs to do something. For now, SB 375 is that something, and spreading falsehoods and half-truths about it will not help."

The first part is critical - Cox is no Tea Partier....there's no Agenda 21. Cox appears to be more of a die-hard libertarian who resents regional authorities telling people how to live. Imagine if Cox was active during the urban renewal 1950s, or the heyday of Robert Moses - he might have been a hero! (or not - hard to say, but I'd like to think so).

I'd say Stephens' defense of state climate laws is a bit timid. As a local smart growth activist, I am convinced the 'enemy' is not Cox, nor regional planners. Pogo was right. Just go to a city planning commission or city council meeting and hear your neighbors respond to the new developments. With SB 375, that 'might' change....a bit.

Irvin Dawid, Palo Alto, CA

Cox's niche is an "anti-density" tirade

Irvin, that is how Wendell and several others make their living. It usually takes but little effort to address "their" "arguments". Once youv'e seen "their" "arguments" a couple times, you see the patterns.

Best,

D

Irvin Dawid's picture
Correspondent

TNR: Low-Density Suburbs Are Not Free-Market Capitalism

Just caught this critique of Cox's WSJ tirade from One News Page in my review of One Bay Area News Update: Low-Density Suburbs Are Not Free-Market Capitalism:

"The homogenous prevalence of low-density single-family suburban housing is the outcome of the very government “planning” process that Cox decries, as economist Ed Glaeser has noted (see “Triumph of the City”)....It’s ironic that the most aggressive defenders of the regulatory enshrinement of the large-lot single-family home claim that any changes to this status-quo are an assault on markets and consumer preferences. In fact, anti-density zoning laws represent the triumph of heavy-handed government over private property rights, as the first major Supreme Court case on zoning demonstrated. ....."

"Cox is right to link land regulations in California to higher housing costs, but he is wrong to defend anti-density zoning and other forms of large-lot suburban protectionism. The proposed changes in the Bay Area take a step in the right direction by allowing higher density in their supply-constrained metropolitan areas. Indeed, more suburban governments should free up housing markets from their long-standing anti-density bias and adopt more market-based approaches to housing."

A ha! This excellent piece is actually from The New Republic!

Land regulations in California and higher housing costs

"Cox is right to link land regulations in California to higher housing costs, but he is wrong to defend anti-density zoning and other forms of large-lot suburban protectionism.

The Coxes of this world don't link land regulations in California to higher housing costs, they link smart growth in California to higher housing costs.

That is their rhetorical tactic. This is an important distinction. I'm pretty sure they know full well eliminating zoning/land use regulations (like they purport to want) will push up densities in many places and reveal their arguments as incorrect.

That said, I think the ecosystems in California cannot handle more people and we will start seeing clear degradation and eventual collapse if things don't change soon. Then you'll want to talk about land regulations and skyrocketing housing costs...

Best,

D

When Libertarians Become Socialists

Imagine if Cox was active during the urban renewal 1950s, or the heyday of Robert Moses - he might have been a hero! (or not - hard to say, but I'd like to think so).

More likely, he would have been like most conservatives, who believe in the free market for everything else but in socialism for the automobile.

You should pay for your own health care, but the government should make sure that you have plenty of free parking.

Charles Siegel

semi-accurate assessment

I agree with much of what you present with regard to Cox, but being anti-density for the sake of being anti-density is not libertarian. If Cox were the "die-hard libertarian" you claim, he would be against regional planning, but agnostic with regard to density. This doesn't appear to be true. I believe his premise is incorrect in that compact development leads to higher housing prices. If SB 375 leads to faster approvals and the production of more housing units, however compact, that should relieve some pressure on housing prices in CA. But, I agree wholeheartedly with your last paragraph. Cox isn't the real enemy of smart growth, but rather it's the "drawbridge" mentality that exists for most people when it comes to growth.

The GOP's war on California's suburbs

Without High Speed Rail, California's suburbs are doomed....and the GOP is waging a war on High Speed Rail.

The suburbs have a lot of forces working against them lately--foreclosures, traffic, rising poverty, rising crime, falling demographics. The one thing that might acutally save California's suburbs and exurbs is High Speed Rail. HSR is, by far, more a lifeline to the far-flung eastern communities and real estate developments of California than a coastal-urban-liberal-hippie peace train.

Just look at a map of the route.

Without HSR the suburbs will die of economic strangulation (via gridlock) as there is absolutely no way, even if we had the money, to build enough freeways to keep the delusion of long-distance car commuting alive. The suburbs will quickly devolve into stucco-box ghettos where only parolees, registered offenders, and the truly impoverished will be moving to.

Don't blame the planners in California for the demise of the suburbs.

Put the blame right where it belongs: with the GOP in DC.

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