State and Local Governments Clash Over Housing Laws

While efforts to ease the state’s housing crisis are in full swing at the state level, a number of local governments are pushing for initiatives which would limit development even further. A new piece in Voice of San Diego highlights this growing contradiction between the state’s push to ease development restrictions on the one hand and local efforts to curb housing density on the other.

Under a new housing plan proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown, developments that include a certain percentage of low-income units would be exempt from a detailed local review. At the same time, voters in municipalities across the state will be asked to weigh in on ballot initiatives that could increase the number of hurdles developers must leap through.

Many of these initiatives would place the issue in voters’ hands. A November ballot measure in Costa Mesa, for instance, would require voters to approve developments that increase total residential units, car trips or commercial square footage, as well as any projects that entail a change in zoning codes or planning documents. Similar initiatives are in the works for Del Mar and Santa Monica, while Cupertino and Gilroy have proposed slow growth initiatives of their own. Encinitas already passed a measure seeking voter approval for major planning changes in 2013.

In many ways, it’s a blast from the past. Between 1986 and 2000, voters weighed in on over 600 land use initiatives mostly aimed at slowing development. That’s become less common in recent years. But thanks to increased development post-economic recovery and the push for more development from the state, the trend appears to be making a comeback.

In addition to the importance of voter involvement, proponents of these initiatives contend that slow growth policies can help preserve the character of communities, curb traffic, and ultimately protect home values. But some people are worried that the policies could have a chilling effect on building at a time when it is needed most.

“When it’s to the point where [housing is] so unaffordable, it’s really detrimental to the city,” said Santa Monica attorney and resident Leonora Yetter. “….And I know these problems aren’t fixed overnight by just building new housing, but through the process of making it harder and harder to build housing, they’re exacerbating all these problems.”

Sometimes these efforts also conflict with state law, which opens up a whole new set of questions.

One thing is for certain: This is one debate that isn’t going away any time soon.


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