Monday, April 9, 2012

California's War on Suburbia?

In this Wall Street Journal opinion piece, transportation planner Wendell Cox claims that state and regional planners are driving people out of the state of California with their plans for high-density, transit-oriented development, which he calls a "war" on the single-family home.  According to Cox, requiring a change from a primarily single-family suburban to a multi-family urban settlement pattern will make "the state's famously unaffordable housing .. even more unaffordable."

I am at a loss to understand how multi-family housing is going to be more expensive than single-family housing.  Cox's claim rests on economic data drawn from William Fischel and others showing that land use regulations in California, such as urban growth boundaries, development moratoria, and so on, generally drive up the cost of housing.  This is true, but only because most of these regulations either restrict the overall supply of housing (development moratoria) or force developers to internalize the costs of new growth (exactions). Urban growth boundaries, by contrast, will not necessarily increase housing prices as long as growth is permitted at sufficient densities within the UGB to offset the loss of housing outside the UGB. Yet, Cox places the blame squarely on increasing density! 

Furthermore, it is ironic that Cox sees salvation in reverting to the single-family lifestyle, when of course all of the cost-increasing restrictions he now decries, such as moratoria and exactions, have been called into service in order to subsidize single-family homeowners and exclude affordable, multi-family housing. 

Ken Stahl

Affordable Housing, California, Comprehensive Plans, Density, Impact Fees | Permalink

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You nailed it, Ken. Moreover, I don't believe anyone in California planning circles is interested in forcing high density upon those who do not desire it and can afford a traditional home--but instead in providing "choice" of landscape. Once commutes are factored in, it is almost undoubtedly cheaper in time and money to live in moderate density neighborhoods with a mixture of uses than it is to live in a segregated environment detached from common needs. However, what seems to be common sense to me may be absurdity or conspiracy to someone with an agenda opposite that of the debate goes on (with selectively portrayed and decontextualized snippits of info and supporting data usually used by both sides). In the end, the data tends to support that suburbia is a war upon itself, and with enough time will be given just enough rope to hang itself (as happened with the recent bubble burst) unless change is made. To what extent and how that change occurs is an altogether separate issue to be decided locally, but the bottom line is that something needs to be fixed--particularly in southern California.

Posted by: Patrick Venne | Apr 12, 2012 7:50:04 AM