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.

Thursday, September 1, 2022 in The New York Times

Rendering of electric scooters, electric cars, light rail train, and apartments in background.

Arizona’s ‘Car-Free’ Community Takes Shape

Culdesac Tempe has been welcoming residents since last year.

February 14, 2024 - The Cool Down

Aerial view of New York City architecture with augmented reality visualization, blue digital holograms over buildings and skyscrapers

4 Ways to Use AI in Urban Planning and City Design

With the ability to predict trends, engage citizens, enhance resource allocation, and guide decision-making, artificial intelligence has the potential to serve as planners’ very own multi-tool.

February 20, 2024 - ArchDaily

"It's The Climate" sign over street in Grants Pass, Oregon.

Oregon Town Seeks Funding for Ambitious Resilience Plan

Like other rural communities, Grants Pass is eager to access federal funding aimed at sustainability initiatives, but faces challenges when it comes to meeting grant requirements.

February 18, 2024 - The Daily Yonder

Close-up of bottom half of stroller being pushed onto sidewalk with no curb cut by person in jeans and brown shoes.

How Infrastructure Communicates Values

The presence and quality of sidewalks, curb cuts, and other basic elements of infrastructure can speak to much more than just economic decisions.

1 hour ago - Strong Towns

Greyhound and Amtrak buses at a temporary bus terminal in San Francisco, California.

Despite High Ridership, Intercity Bus Lines Are Eliminating Stations

Riders on the ‘forgotten stepchild’ of the U.S. transportation system find themselves waiting for buses curbside as Greyhound sells off its real estate in many U.S. cities.

2 hours ago - Governing

Buffalo, New York

Buffalo Residents Push Back on Proposed Cap Park

State and local officials say the $1 billion project will heal neighborhoods divided by the Kensington Expressway, but community members say the proposed plan will exacerbate already poor air quality in the area.

3 hours ago - Bloomberg CityLab

News from HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

The Walkable City

Harvard GSD Executive Education

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.