California Must Pass the Smarter Smart Growth Law

It's a stone cold fact. And stacks and stacks of research back it up. California is in a housing affordability crisis.

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

We have a grave social and economic problem: The homeownership rate is at its lowest since the the second World War. Renters spend way more than 30% of their incomes on housing-related costs. 25% of the entire nation's transient population live in the Golden State; that's despite the fact that we house 12% of the total U.S. population. People cannot afford to live here and the situation has become very serious given these stats.

The state legislature is finally doing something about this as scores of bills have been introduced and debated this season. There are way too many to do a fair analysis of them and chances are there will be 11th hour changes. But I will say we need serious reform.

The Transit Coalition has called for California lawmakers to pass a variation of the Smarter Smart Growth Law which is legislation that removes all unnecessary red tape and hurdles for developers to improve in-fill, transit-oriented housing infrastructure. That is to tackle a fundamental Economics 101 issue which is balancing the supply-demand ratio. As it stands right now, there is more demand and strain on the market than supply. That drives these outrageous purchase prices and rentals and crams more people into tight quarters.

Densely populated regions like Riverside, South LA, and several corridors in central Orange County are currently urban areas filled with people but built with suburban style development: Multiple families dwell in homes designed for single families; roadways and streets are jammed with vehicles given limited public transportation alternatives. You would think that such areas would be project gold mines for the development industry with all the market demands for expanded housing and other transit-oriented development. But all kinds of government rules, regulations, fees and other obstacles prevent the builders from making any money on the project; thus, nobody is willing to build.

The primary cause of this situation is excessive bureaucracy at both the state and local level. Vital rules like fire codes, earthquake-resistant material, and emergency access must remain, but trivial matters like a mandatory CEQA report for an infill redevelopment project or having to do a conditional use permit in areas already zoned need to be revisited. Last year's passage of the Granny Flats Law is a good start, but more must be done.

In addition, government-funded safety-net programs, shelters, and drug rehabilitation homes operated through the private sector need to be expanded to address the transient problem and the resulting blight. The only real "shelter" out there for many people living on the streets is incarceration. There needs to be places where these people can go to receive the help they need so they can be healed, turned away from destructive addictions and become productive members of society. Feeding people on the streets and providing them with clothing is good, but sheltering them with caring mentors and spiritual advisors will be game-changers for the homeless problem.

This is what the Smarter Smart Growth Law is all about: Legislation that will solve the housing issue. Imposing rent control regulation or throwing more tax money at the problem does little. The government cannot directly control supply-demand pricing in a market economy. But it can fight against the problem with a firm message and solutions to make it less costly for developers to improve options for all Californians regardless of class, race or ethnicity.

It's now time for the California legislature to stop the nonsense, pass the Smarter Smart Growth Law and lead the way out of this crisis.


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