Thursday, May 23, 2019

Refreshing YIMBY at NYT

Farhad Manjoo writes an excellent YIMBY (yes in my back yard) essay in the New York Times, remarkably placing the blame squarely where it belongs -- progressive politics.
Across my home state [California], traffic and transportation is a developing-world nightmare. Child care and education seem impossible for all but the wealthiest. The problems of affordable housing and homelessness have surpassed all superlatives — what was a crisis is now an emergency that feels like a dystopian showcase of American inequality. 
Just look at San Francisco, Nancy Pelosi’s city. One of every 11,600 residents is a billionaire, and the annual household income necessary to buy a median-priced home now tops $320,000. Yet the streets there are a plague of garbage and needles and feces, and every morning brings fresh horror stories from a “Black Mirror” hellscape: Homeless veterans are surviving on an economy of trash from billionaires’ mansions. Wealthy homeowners are crowdfunding a legal effort arguing that a proposed homeless shelter is an environmental hazard. A public-school teacher suffering from cancer is forced to pay for her own substitute. 
At every level of government, our representatives, nearly all of them Democrats, prove inadequate and unresponsive to the challenges at hand. Witness last week’s embarrassment, when California lawmakers used a sketchy parliamentary maneuver to knife Senate Bill 50, an ambitious effort to undo restrictive local zoning rules and increase the supply of housing.
He notices the same hypocrisy that struck me walking past the "all are welcome here" signs in Palo Alto:
Then there is the refusal on the part of wealthy progressives to live by the values they profess to support at the national level. Creating dense, economically and socially diverse urban environments ought to be a paramount goal of progressivism... Urban areas are the most environmentally friendly way we know of housing lots of people. We can’t solve the climate crisis without vastly improving public transportation and increasing urban density. ... 
Yet where progressives argue for openness and inclusion as a cudgel against President Trump, they abandon it on Nob Hill and in Beverly Hills. This explains the opposition to SB 50, which aimed to address the housing shortage in a very straightforward way: by building more housing. ... 
Reading opposition to SB 50 and other efforts at increasing density, I’m struck by an unsettling thought: What Republicans want to do with I.C.E. and border walls, wealthy progressive Democrats are doing with zoning and Nimbyism. Preserving “local character,” maintaining “local control,” keeping housing scarce and inaccessible — the goals of both sides are really the same: to keep people out. 
“We’re saying we welcome immigration, we welcome refugees, we welcome outsiders — but you’ve got to have a $2 million entrance fee to live here, otherwise you can use this part of a sidewalk for a tent,” said Brian Hanlon, president of the pro-density group California Yimby. 
It's an obvious point. But it's great to hear this point in the New York Times. An internal reflection on hypocrisy is much more effective than an outside charge.

I don't agree with everything. He starts with a good point,
One continuing tragedy is the decimation of local media and the rise of nationalized politics in its place.
Yes, everyone here in California is so consumed with Trump Apolexy that they don't even notice what the city council is doing. But Manjoo chalks the fundamental problem up to larger representation for rural states in the Senate. Hmm. If the same people who vote for San Francisco zoning have more power to push their agenda on the whole country, I don't see how that makes it better.

Still I see hope. California is a one party state, and the one party is slowly waking up to the fact that it must govern too. Slogans about the great progressive future are fine in opposition, but once you've been in total charge for a while, you do start to own it.  After trying everything else, California is slowly waking up to the fact that we have found the problem and it is us. Subsidies, vouchers, "affordable housing" mandates will never make a dent. Just Let Them Build some housing. It took Nixon to go to China. I was very happy to see the Obama administration recognize the havoc caused by occupational licensing restrictions. The YIMBY self-reflection is not over yet. 


  1. Well, just remember, there are no atheists in foxholes and there are no libertarians (or liberals) when neighborhood property zoning is under review.

  2. I'm confused by your optimism of the one party state. I would have figured after all those years in Chicago you would have believed the one party super majority leads to absolute corruption. ~LAL

  3. Kind of like how the sanctuary cities didn't want ICE to relocate migrants to their "sanctuaries" because of the burden it would place on those cities. Burdens on Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas are ok.

    All of these people with Trump Derangement Syndrome need to understand that he's the symptom, not the disease.

    You might as well declare war on chancres in order to fight syphilis.

  4. I'm sorry, but progressives never learn their lesson. There will be no building boom in California, despite the overwhelming need. There will be no proper management of city utilities to clean up the garbage. There will be no recognition that the housing is extremely expensive....not because California is an irresistible place, but because there is a chronic and severe shortage of it. There will be no reconciling the popular statements of inclusion with the private desires to exclude, via zoning and obstruction of new housing.

    When progressives vote politicians that irresponsibly obligate their local governments to unaffordable retirement plans for municipal workers, and, like Detroit, the municipalities end up in deep financial straits, the blame is never placed upon the policies. Instead, it is the nearest excuse on hand…usually a recent recession that forced the financial difficulties, instead of years of stupidity.

    As long as no one can be held to objective standards – this isn’t physics after all – progressives can lie to themselves that what they believe in is the proper way of doing things.

  5. SB50 would not have solved the housing problems in CA. Do you think that all these rich gentrified liberals would allow multi family units in their neighborhoods regardless of the zoning? It wouldn't happen. However, what would happen is that these laws would be enforced in the suburbs where people want to escape the inner city problems. In the burbs, the pressure to build multi unit structures among single family housing would be great and where this law would be mostly implemented. The impetus is to get the poor out of the cities and put them into newly constructed multi unit buildings in the suburbs. Don't ever think that the Democrats are trying to solve problems. They are trying to create more of them - like bringing more people into the state despite, what they say, are water shortages AND letting more people out of jails into the populace, while trying to restrict private ownership of guns. Keeping the state out of local issues is the best thing to do - especially when the state is run by these Democrats.

  6. Nobody thinks you should be allowed to build an outdoor shooting range in a residential area,* or put a "vice" business next to an elementary school, or have a pig farm on a 3,000 sqf lot. What people advocating legislation like SB50 truly want is not to REDUCE zoning laws, but instead to change how those laws are APPLIED.

    Instead of municipal zoning boards comprised of cranky retirees who just say "no" to everything, we'd like to have people who will say "yes" unless there is some blatant/obvious harm being done. But that's a hard thing to dictate with legislation. Unfortunately there are some issues the law just cannot solve for us, and the only valid remedy is to get involved and help "vote the bums out." Zoning is such an issue, so those angry about it ought to attend their area's next planning/zoning board meeting(s).

    *Because outdoor ranges are insanely loud, not because I have an issue with them generally.


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