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California’s Messy Code Hinders Housing and Climate Goals

It’s time to rewrite California’s building and planning codes for the 21st century, says architect Mark Hogan.
June 8, 2016, 10am PDT | Elana Eden
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California's obstacles to addressing climate change and the housing shortage include its own code, a piece in BOOM argues.

Layers of code create what Hogan calls a "hairball"—a term borrowed from programming—in which, ultimately, "each bit of code can be used to stop another from doing its work." He writes:

Some of California’s own largest policy initiatives are at odds with each other … Reducing VMT requires density, but density is nearly impossible to achieve while constructing net-zero buildings.

To tease out some of the threads making up the hairball of code, Hogan tackles the history of planning, zoning, and building codes across California since the late 19th century. Though they generally arose independently in each city, early codes were defined by the times: they sought to counter the conditions of early American cities through ample space, separation from industry, and, of course, racist exclusion.

Though planning goals have changed, in many cases, codes have not kept up. Now, Hogan urges, "[in order to] create affordable cities, responsive to a changing climate and prudent with limited natural resources, we may need to rewrite the rules from scratch with a new set of goals in mind."

For one, he suggests semi-dense urban development—think low-rise apartments or in-law units:

Disallowing this kind of gentle medium density in the name of preserving neighborhood character does a disservice to those who arrived here or were born too late to afford a single-family home within commuting distance of their jobs. It also fails to recognize that making communities more walkable and sustainable will improve neighborhood character over time, not diminish it.

Full Story:
Published on Sunday, May 1, 2016 in BOOM: A Journal of California
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