California Continues its Housing Policy Reinvention

It’s no longer business as usual in California when it comes to planning and developing housing.

2 minute read

September 22, 2022, 10:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

California State Capital

cmshepard / Shutterstock

The state of California, by all measures one of the most expensive states for housing in the entire country, is pushing back against the planning and housing status quo with a broad front of regulatory reforms, including state preemption of local zoning laws with real consequences for scofflaws.

The New York Times recently picked up on the ongoing battle between the traditional, NIMBY powers that be and the growing political clout of pro-development forces, led by the nation’s most active YIMBY coalition. Conor Dougherty and Soumya Karlamangla write the article, starting with the anecdote about Woodside, the wealthy Silicon Valley enclave that made national news earlier this year when it tried to avoid state-mandated housing requirements by claiming to be a mountain lion refuge. Woodside is hardly alone, of course. Other cities in the South Bay Area that have pushed the boundaries of state housing law in recent months include Atherton, Palo Alto, Los Altos Hills, and Cupertino.

The California State Legislature is pushing back against the status quo by approving an annual parade of pro-housing development laws.

Statewide rent control. Moves to encourage backyard units. A dismantling of single-family zoning rules. The barrage continued in this year’s session, concluded on [August 31], when lawmakers passed a pair of measures that aim to turn retail centers, office buildings and parking lots into potentially millions of future housing units — moves that caused many political observers to reconsider what is politically possible.

Dougherty and Karlamangla note that the state is doing more than passing laws—it’s also begun to actually enforce them. “[P]assing laws that nobody follows has historically been where state housing policy began and ended,” according to the article. “That’s because, in California and elsewhere, most of the power about where and how to build has traditionally been left to local governments, on the theory that land use is better handled by people closest to the problem.”

“Until 2017, when a suite of new laws expanded the Department of Housing and Community Development’s authority, it wasn’t even clear if it had the power to penalize cities that weren’t following state housing dictates. Mr. Newsom’s administration has since used $4 million to create a housing Accountability and Enforcement unit to investigate cities and implement the laws, while legislators have usurped local authorities by forcing them to plan for more and denser housing, hemmed their options for stopping it, and created measures to strip them of land use power when they don’t comply.”

A lot more detail and discussion in included in the source article below.

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