What does it take to pass the Smarter Smart Growth Law?

More evidence Californians are overpaying for housing: Add special interest pandering to the list.

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Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

Pandering lawmakers failed to pass a simple supply-demand bill proposed by Governor Jerry Brown that would better allow developers to address the housing supply shortage, urban sprawl, gentrification, a car-centric culture, and resulting runaway growth of expensive rentals and purchase prices. That's despite the fact that Brown allowed $400 million in affordable housing subsidies to be allocated for the spend-happy legislature as part of the legislation.

This law would have lowered the cost of living by allowing developers to have projects approved without the layers-upon-layers of red tape. The proposed regulatory reform would have allowed the industry to better profit, compete and address the supply-demand imbalance. It would have expanded transit-oriented infill development with some units set aside for those making less money, especially in areas near public transportation. Our transit agencies that are looking to get people out of their cars and grow their bus and train ridership numbers and farebox recovery ratios would have greatly benefited with the residential developments just footsteps away from the stations and stops.

Despite the smart growth initiative as a counter to urban sprawl and to build affordable non-subsidized workforce housing near transit routes as taught in Environmental Science 101, the influential environmental lobby opposed and the legislature was too cowardly to stand up for We the People and come up with a workable solution. They simply pandered to the special interests and said "no" without passing any variation of the proposal. To be fair, some lawmakers were courageous enough to back the bill, but some variation of it should have made it through to the Governor's desk.

The powerful labor union lobby also objected to the Smarter Smart Growth Law that influenced the vote. The unions are demanding prevailing wages on the private development sector for projects approved under the proposed law. That would be something unprecedented and destructive to the marketplace because such projects would not receive any government funds but still be bound to special prevailing salary rules beyond the existing minimum wage and overtime labor laws. Again, how the labor unions and environmental lobby are able to have a direct influence over lawmaking decisions is a disgrace to the democratic republic.
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That's despite the fact that the Smarter Smart Growth Law would stimulate the construction job market and put countless unemployed people back to work. That will grow the middle class and give them an opportunity to thrive, a historical key purpose of unions and collective bargaining. Remember: As the number of total jobs increase in the marketplace regardless of they are union or not, so does pay and good benefits because developers and their supporting businesses have to pay more to retain quality employees. That's to prevent them from applying for higher-paid work at their competitors. The developers that pay their workers the lower wages will end up facing higher costly turnover. Also, since buildings have to be built to code, developers that underpay their workers may also face steeper quality assurance costs as better paid workers can deliver better quality product the first time around.

You may know that workers at the local Wal-Mart or McDonald's for example know that if they perform well and bring value to their corporations but their employer fails to give them better decent pay as both have historically demonstrated, they can apply to a competitor, and the under-paying corporations lose out on quality labor. That leads to costly turnover and a decline in customer service quality. And businesses know that both of these factors can be controlled by better paying their staff. When was the last time you went to a McDonald's or Wal-Mart and noticed or had something go wrong with your purchase?

However lawmakers would not even consider this Economics-101 argument as part of the debate, and the Smarter Smart Growth law stalled. From my point of view, that is a pure greed of power from the labor union lobby; I don't think they're looking out for the working class.

Growing up, I have personally been affected by these price hikes, gentrification and urban sprawl disaster, having twice been displaced from growing costs that grew much further than working salaries. Despite me having a decent-paying skilled-based job, I cannot afford to live anywhere near the economic job hubs in West LA, Orange County or San Diego. The rents and purchase prices are just too high, even for single room rentals. Housing inventories are just too short.

If the people we elect cannot debate and pass a straightforward simple solution that addresses a grave cost of living and urban growth problem that is not in line with the rest of the market economy, we need to show the state who is in charge of governing the land: We the People, not the special interests.

The political gridlock has gotten so bad that many of us have lost trust in the government and left the state. Countless Californians are way overpaying to just have a roof over their heads. We should be spending at most 30% of our household incomes toward housing payments or rents, but most of us are paying twice that amount. Many that do find a home somewhere decent and affordable must commute from far-off areas that strains the transportation infrastructure and pollutes the environment. I first learned about long-distance commuting and the environment back when I was in elementary school. And the state legislature does nothing when it could.

Moving forward, Governor Brown must not give up on the Smarter Smart Growth Law. He must not, nor should We the People. The tools are there to convince the majority of hardworking California population that action must be taken at the state level. Workers must be able to have an option to live near their jobs with plenty of resources to spare without any form of financial help from the government.

How can all working Californians have the option to live close to work without government subsidies and purpose at least 70% of their income to other areas? The state legislature needs to address that. Meanwhile, the blog series that "More Evidence that Californians are Overpaying for Housing" will continue.


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