Standard Disclaimer-The “Soapbox” is not intended to portray any official ECA position or opinion. Nor is it to be inferred that any ECA member shares the opinion stated in the Soapbox. The Soapbox is purely intended to be an Op-Ed piece done by John Bly each week to stimulate interest and thought on a wide range of topics.
Recently, everybody that lives in Sonoma, Marin, Napa and to a lesser extent, Solano/Mendo/Lake Counties have all witnessed a dramatic downturn in supply of housing while seeing a dramatic rise in demand for housing. That lack of supply, combined with low interest rates driving demand, has driven the cost of housing up and up and up. Recognizing that there is a shortage of housing (some might say this shortage has increased the homeless population as one effect) has happened with our State and local politicians and staffers, but have they been effective in dealing with the problem?
My opinion is a resounding NO.
My experience is to see more and more “State mandated” policies come out that are at odds with helping to deal with a housing shortage. Consider one example: the State has stated that they want to see more housing get constructed in higher density areas like downtown neighborhoods, for the following logical reasons:
- Closer to where people have to work means less commute times, less need for expensive road infrastructure costs and maintenance
- Building housing closer to transit hubs will promote the use of public transit and lower our dependency on gas driven autos that contribute to greenhouse gases and affect “climate change”.
- Protection of endangered species has reduced open land that used to be easy to build upon. There is less and less land that is inexpensive to develop.
- Most folks in Sonoma and its contiguous Counties do not want to see “sprawl” where subdivisions keep getting built out of the City’s inner circle and lead to a “San Jose” type area that is undesirable.
- Recent years have shown that wildfires can move quickly in areas of rural development making houses in those outlying areas at risk for being destroyed by fires.
- Policing and fire protection is easier to do in higher density areas than it is in rural areas.
For all those reasons, and some others, the State Government has passed regulation after regulation that borders on “social engineering” in order to accomplish their means to a problem-build more housing in higher density areas.
Editorial: California is on the verge of flushing six years of housing progress down the toilet link
Some recent examples of what is being imposed upon developers and builders: development now must pass the test of whether the new housing starts will increase “vehicle miles travelled” (VMT’s) or not. If not, developers can build. If new housing increases VMT’s, forget it. City and County planning departments and permitting agencies have to deal with VMT’s first and foremost. Making new housing depend on a zero increase to VMT’s seems obvious that the State regulators are forcing house builders and developers to build close to where jobs, schools, and public transit hubs exist. They do not want someone driving 20 minutes out on a rural road to get to their house, and to get from their house to the school/doctor office/store/or place of work.
Let me introduce you to some, for most of you, new acronyms. RHNA stands for Regional Housing Needs Allocation. The State, since 1969, has required each local government to plan (by zoning, urban growth boundaries, open space designations, and general plan amendments) for its share of the state’s housing needs for people of all income levels. Let me translate that-since we continue to allow and welcome more and more lower income immigration into our country, the state needs somewhere to house these folks. Voila-we will simply pass the required housing needs onto the local Cities and Counties! So every eight years, the state requires, through a process called RHNA, that every jurisdiction receive their share of an assignment of housing units which the state determines will meet the state’s housing needs for the next 8 year cycle. In order to get the local jurisdictions to take their assignments seriously, the state has figured out a way to tie transportation funding to whether that jurisdiction is planning to build enough housing for their assigned numbers.
So far are you with me? The state wants houses to be built near city centers. The state wants housing to be built for “all income levels” but they are skewing the “all income levels” by allowing lower income immigrants to cross the border and live in California. The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), is the ones that establish those housing needs numbers to go from the state to the local jurisdictions. And to put the “cherry on top” of this tasty process, the state will FORCE the local jurisdictions to plan for building the new housing by withholding gas tax funded transportation dollars if they do not plan for those new houses. That would get my attention if I were Sonoma County.
Now, Sonoma County and the cities and Counties surrounding them, wait with bated breath for ABAG to give them their new assignments. Certainly, ABAG won’t force the rural area to build a whole bunch of houses that would violate the VMT (vehicle miles traveled) mandate. Certainly—–
The new numbers that the County of Sonoma has to plan for, shows a decrease for the City of Santa Rosa of 14% over the next 8 years, while the rural County of Sonoma sees an increase of 654%. Not a typo.
You might ask what happens if the County does not plan for the 654% increase in their housing allocation in the next 8-year cycle? Answer-they could lose $25 million a year in transportation funding from the MTC that was collected from gas taxes.
You might be like me and scratch your head in wonderment at the infinite capacity for “Nincompoopness” that comes out of Sacramento every year. I am not arguing for the housing need-that is a given with all the new folks coming in. I am declaring a “nincompoopness foul” on where they are forcing local jurisdictions to plan for those houses. YOU CANNOT PUT THEM OUT INTO RURAL SONOMA COUNTY-THEY WON’T GET APPROVED BECAUSE OF THE LAWS YOU JUST IMPOSED ON VMT’S!!!!!
That’s All Folks!