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Sacramento, please look in the mirror to address our housing crisis
dennis Wyatt web
Dennis Wyatt

Earth to California Legislature and Captain Newsom, come in please.

Perhaps that’s how we should hail those residing in the fifth dimension spaceship known as the State Capitol in Sacramento now that they’ve proudly hammered together a deal to accelerate the building of housing in California.

Simply put they want “pro housing” jurisdictions to get more state grant money for housing and transportation and those communities that impede housing development to be penalized with heavy fines. Naturally, being the brave visionary leaders they are they didn’t define what a “pro housing” jurisdiction would act like.

They also nicely glossed over the fact California’s housing crisis – whether it is affordability or supply – is not rooted in NIMBYism as much as it is in state regulations ranging from the treatment of water to the environmental review process.

While those regulations are critical, the heavy handiness, relentless bureaucratization of processes, and the lengthy review have turned the development of infrastructure to support housing and the building of homes per se into a marathon where participants have to navigate the approval course dragging a 100-pound ball and chain.

While there are jurisdictions that are beholden to practices such as exclusionary zoning aimed at keeping housing for less wealthy folks from being built, the biggest impediment to housing being built and its relative affordability is the state.

You could argue 90 percent of the impacts studied for projects in a community are pure redundancy. One master environmental impact report study for the entire city addressing air quality, traffic, noise and such that assigns an impact per unit for each housing type would reduce time wasted in the approval process.

The EIR process has become a weapon for people to use to try and stop growth regardless of the perceived income levels of potential occupants rather than direct and shape growth.

While keeping in mind Captain Newsom and the Sacramento crew of 120 piloting the good ship California have essentially rolled out a housing plan that’s loaded with platitudes while starved of details, the biggest jokes are the so-called carrots – especially when it comes to transportation dollars.

As things stand now the bulk of the housing growth is incurring in Inland California. For the Bay Area that is the Northern San Joaquin Valley led by Manteca and then Lathrop. For the greater Los Angeles Basin, the housing growth is in San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

The reason that is happening is simple. The coastal regions from the Golden Gate south are producing more jobs than housing. The housing solution for places like San Jose and the Silicon Valley is Tracy, Mountain House, Lathrop, Manteca, Stockton and even into Modesto, Ceres and Turlock, whether it is to own or rent.

Given how Manteca has consistently been one of the state’s fastest growing cities primarily based on being the affordable housing solution for the Bay Area, you’d think the city would be in line for a bump in state transit dollars such as perhaps the $80 million to fund the second and third phases of the $131 million Highway 99/120 Bypass/Austin Road upgrade.

It would seem like a logical candidate given it serves numerous communities in the region that are building housing at a greater clip than anyplace in the Bay Area.

But who in their right mind believes a single cent will go to any place in California except where the vast majority of the Legislature represents?

The reality is all the money for affordable housing the state will dole out as part of its so-called “stick and carrot” strategy will go to big cities that are primarily on the coast along with the transportation dollars.

Meanwhile, almost all of the housing that will help to relieve the acute needs in places like San Jose, San Francisco and Los Angeles will be built in the state’s interior in small cities and towns. That will make it tougher for those living and working here to secure housing.

As for the stick, if the state wields it the odds are they will go after the weakest they can find so they can beat them into submission. Any bets on whether the targets of the state’s stick will be Los Angeles or some small, struggling berg in the San Joaquin Valley? 

I get it. The state is frustrated that all of the great schemes and rules they come up with and have already imposed on local governments to produce more housing aren’t that effective. So the problem, they surmise, aren’t their brilliant rules but a failure of communities to follow their edicts which means punishment and incentives are now the answer.

Perhaps if instead they reworked all of the rules and mandates clogging the housing pipeline in a bid to let the private sector respond better to market conditions, they might actually get results.

Doing so would involve a high degree of discipline, give and take as well as pragmatism that hasn’t existed in Sacramento for decades.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.