Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The San Francisco Bay area is now closed; please move elsewhere …

   Conservationists and developers frequently clash over the designation of “open space” in a metropolitan area.  For the former group, more open space discourages sprawl, helps nature, and provides for breathing room (sometimes literally) for crowded metropolitans.  For the later group, designation means both a loss of potentially profitable land and an assurance of upwards pressure on housing prices.  Nowhere in the United States is this conflict sharper than in the San Francisco Bay area, in which environmentally minded governments have designated large amounts of open space in a metro area that is already hemmed in by water, mountains, brush, and farms. 

Sfbay    In this week, home builder Joseph Perkins argues that far too much of the Bay area has been designated as off-limits to development, with the result that the region has a critical shortage of affordable housing both today and in the future.

   It is easy to be cynical and assume that home builders use the affordable housing argument as a leverage to gain greater opportunities for profit.  Regardless of this, the housing crunch in the bay area is undeniable.  Perkins asserts that the Bay area will grow in population by 1.5 million by 2030, but that there’s no place to house these new residents, who will come through births and migration.

  But is the bottom line for some conservationists this: They simply don’t want the Bay area’s population to increase?  Can local governments say, through land use law, in effect, “The Bay area is now closed to any new significant migration?”  To those who were lucky enough to live here already, congratulations, but for others –- well, look elsewhere?  Is this a valid role for government's land use law?

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Thanks for highlighting this issue. I'd read the SFGate article earlier, and it immediately brought to mind your prior post on "Drawbridge protectionism."

An example of that is playing out right now in Hawaii, where the hot issue of the day is the "Hawaii Superferry," an interisland high speed car ferry. The rhetoric being used in that situation is right in line with the descriptions in your post.

Posted by: Robert Thomas | Oct 24, 2007 2:08:16 PM

You appear to have bought, lock, stock, and barrel, Mr. Perkins's assertion that "there's no place to house these new residents." That is simply ridiculous, even if you accept his suggestion that available infill sites as defined, i.e., VACANT properties in existing urban areas, are inadequate to accommodate new growth. But of course densification doesn't rely on vacant parcels, but rather vacant and (more so) underused parcels. This latter enormous category of properties appears not be included in Mr. Perkins's "analysis."

Accordingly, your questions at the end of the post are strawmen. Nobody seriously argues that development simply must be stopped altogether, it's all a question of where it should be happening.

Which leads me to a question for you. If the suggestion is--and it is clearly Mr. Perkins's position--that we need to push the boundaries of urban areas outward beyond the existing "urban-wildland interface," what of the fires now burning exactly that development in Southern California? Should we be building more of that? How do we address the dislocated residents and their desire to return?

I think this issue deserves a little more nuanced treatment than either Mr. Perkins or your last paragraph have given it.

Posted by: Matt Zinn | Oct 24, 2007 3:29:39 PM