This column originally appeared on Business Life Magazine.
Getting back into the normal routine after the holiday hangover usually takes some time for most, but I typically jump right into fulfilling the promises of the new year, moving full throttle. At the end of the month, I reflect on what I’ve accomplished the first 31 days of the year and look ahead to what is left to achieve. Our Legislature also wastes no time in getting back to their same routine – that is, making the wrong decisions on policies.
The number of individuals falling into homelessness continues to rise each year. The cost of homes and apartments also continues to increase. What’s the solution? Well, apparently Senate Bill 50 by Senator Scott Wiener was not it. For the third year in a row, Senator Wiener’s efforts to take meaningful action on the housing crisis was defeated, even as it appears lawmakers have no other plans on how to address this issue.
For years, lawmakers at all levels of government have stressed the need to address the housing crisis. Yet, they continue to approve policies that will worsen the crisis and continue to reject policies that would help increase the construction of more homes.
In Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, getting any type of building built is nearly impossible due to the onerous approval process, ridiculously high fees, and obstruction from NIMBYs who don’t want others to have a home. To make things worse, local lawmakers have done nothing to make the necessary changes to fix this. They have control over the types of projects that are approved and where those projects get built. However, despite the ongoing crisis and desperate need for the construction of homes, they choose to be selective on projects, resulting in little to no new construction. It is no surprise that some in Sacramento have felt the need to step in and force municipalities to act.
I understand the fear municipalities had over losing local control and NIMBYs worried about high-rises in their Sherman Oaks neighborhood, but SB 50 would not have had either of these outcomes. In fact, local governments would have been exempt from SB 50’s provisions through a local flexibility plan, giving them the ability to adopt housing plans unique to their region. This does not seem like a loss of local control if you ask me.
The goal of SB 50 was not to invade single-family home communities and build skyscrapers, but to relax height limits in areas where it makes sense – near transit. The limit under Senator Wiener’s bill would have capped buildings to four or five stories, depending on the distance from transit. This means we would have seen more apartments built near rail stations and bus stops, resulting in less people on the road, which leads to less traffic and a reduction in emissions. This appears to check all the right boxes.
You all know the saying, ‘Third time’s the charm’? Well, I was sure this bill would have moved forward this year – in it’s third year. It didn’t even make it out of the Senate.
As I was watching SB 50 debated by our California State Senators last month, I kept hearing the same comments about how we needed to address the housing crisis – but that this was not the way. While they commended the hard work by Senator Wiener, they could not support the bill. In 2018 I heard this; in 2019 I heard this; and this year, in 2020, I heard this. Do you know what I have not heard? An alternative solution to SB 50.
If we do not build, more individuals and families will fall into homelessness. If we do not build, emissions will increase as people decide to buy homes further and further away from where they work. If we do not build, businesses will not be able to retain talent and ultimately be forced to cease operations. This is a real problem.
2020 may not have be the year to solve our housing crisis, but perhaps we can have another debate in 2021 about ways to build more homes. It is, after all, our lawmakers’ yearly routine.
Stuart Waldman is President of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association (VICA), a business advocacy organization based in Van Nuys that represents employers in the San Fernando Valley at the local, state and federal levels of government.