Housing Policy

California's Land-use Reforms Promote Freedom and Property Rights

Apparently, some conservatives support freedom and property rights, but not when it affects their neighborhoods or intrudes on their personal preferences.

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Conservatives promote the importance of property rights, free markets, regulatory reform, small businesses, family values, and the need to reduce the power of unelected bureaucrats. In California, for instance, they want to exempt projects from the dreaded California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and streamline the permit process so builders can boost housing supply.

They are completely right on all those points. Yet after a bill came along that promotes those concepts, many Republican legislators and right-leaning activists have opposed it. Apparently, these conservatives support freedom and property rights, but not when it affects their neighborhoods or intrudes on their personal preferences.

I'm referring to Senate Bill 9, which passed the legislature on Thursday. The measure, according to the official bill analysis, requires "cities and counties to ministerially approve a proposed housing development project containing two residential units on parcels zoned for single-family residential development."

In plain English, that means property owners could—by right, rather than at the discretion of planning officials—subdivide their lots and build up to two dwelling units on each lot. It's similar to the state's groundbreaking ADU (accessory dwelling unit) law that gives owners the freedom to create separate apartments on their property, except SB 9 allows them to build units that can be sold individually.

Supporters say the law will lessen the housing crunch by incentivizing construction. That's true, although it's only a small part of a supply-boosting agenda. High prices stem from years of overregulation by local governments that do the bidding of NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yarders)—people who own their homes and don't want additional congestion.

The bill is the work of Democrats, but Republicans who take their own rhetoric seriously should also be championing this approach. SB 9 is the most robust pro-property-rights measure the Legislature has passed in ages. It allows owners to do more things on their land. By the way, property rights involve what you can do with your property. You have no "right" to your neighbor's land or your "way of life."

This is a decidedly market solution. Free markets mean that individual investors decide what to build, not government planning officials. By reducing excessive restrictions, the profit motive will encourage people to build more housing. If you don't like profits, you don't like capitalism—and should reconsider using the conservative label.

The market case for regulatory reform goes like this: Regulations should be minimal and easily understandable. Regulators have a right to assure that any project conforms to general rules, but individuals need not go tail-between-their-legs to bureaucrats or city councils for approval based on subjective characteristics. This bill's "ministerial approval" provision means exactly that.

It promotes small businesses because mom-and-pop investors and builders will undertake these small-scale projects. I have nothing against large corporations, but the "big is bad" crowd has no reason to expect that major developers will specialize in these SB 9-style niche projects. It restricts CEQA, the abusive environmental law that invites lawsuits challenging virtually any project.

What about family values? I live in a community that allows the by-right approval of second homes (provided they conform to setback and size requirements). As a result, some of my neighbors have built second units to house their adult children and aging parents. If that doesn't promote family cohesiveness, I don't know what does.

Opponents of SB 9 (which also, not surprisingly, includes NIMBY Democrats) want other solutions to the housing crisis. They call for subsidized affordable housing projects, but taxpayer-funded housing projects are not reflective of limited-government values. They want to bring back redevelopment agencies—local planning agencies that routinely abused eminent domain and showered subsidies on big developers. No thanks.

They want to protect CEQA, which boggles my mind given the bipartisan consensus about its ill effects. They say local control is paramount. If critics are consistent, they should support removing all state restrictions on local tax-hiking authorities and let city councils raise property taxes at will. Fortunately, I don't think conservatives would go for that idea. I support state restrictions on local tax-raising and limits on local property regulations.

In opposing SB 9, the not-particularly-conservative League of California Cities argued that these measures "fail to recognize the extensive public engagement associated with developing and adopting zoning ordinances." I'll take more land-use freedom over a process that subjects my rights to the arbitrary desires of the loudest voices at a public hearing.

Opponents throw other objections at the wall, including concerns about adequate infrastructure even though new projects pay an abundance of impact fees—as anyone who has been to a planning desk knows. Opponents of SB 9 and SB 10 (which streamlines mid-density projects along transit corridors) aren't adhering to any principle other than, "We don't want new housing here, just build it anywhere else."

That's a philosophy of sorts, but has nothing to do with promoting markets or freedom.

This column was first published in The Orange County Register.

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  1. All them goddamn conservatives in California. (You can tell the conservatives in California, they’re the ones who wear white socks with their Birkenstocks.)

    1. They are ones who are renting uhauls.

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  2. What a joke, Stevie. Who passed all of those laws and regulations that this is trying to get rid of? Democrats.

    1. That’s a vast assumption. There are many cities and counties in California that are conservative. In those areas, conservatives passed their zoning laws.

      Ken tried to asset the other day that NIMBYism is a progressive trait. NIMBYism can be found among all political leanings, anywhere where people own homes.

      1. Yeah, imposing new laws post-hoc that totally obliterate the value of property under the previous law is not NIMBYism you disingenuous fat sack of monkey shit. NIMBYism is an entirely progressive peculiarity. Not wanting to upend 233 years of established law and nationalize zoning is not NIMBYism. See the difference? The difference is that you’re a lying fat sack of monkey shit.

      2. Are you lying about this too? Of course you are. It is what you do. The zoning laws being reversed and discussed here were originally created by progressives. “Steaming Pile of S***” does fit you perfectly.

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      3. Then why is Stevie making it about conservatives?

        Seems a stretch from a hack, not an honest evaluation of the situation. And on that subject, 100% of “conservatives” in California could be against this law and it would pass anyway.

        So again, what is the point of the headline? Intentionally misleading for clicks, that’s what.

  3. What will fix California? Nothing.

    The best case scenario is annexation by Mexico in ten to twenty years time and its return to the state of being an uninhabitable desert.

  4. You know, there is a reason they call CA the land of fruits and nuts, and the nickname of CA is ‘The People’s Republic’. Newsflash: These names are not assigned to CA because they are closet conservatives.

  5. Reason magazine:
    State governments prohibiting local school boards from instituting mask mandates = bad!
    Also…
    State/national government prohibiting local residents from instituting zoning restrictions for their communities = good!

    Absolutely pathetic.

    1. Leftists are extremely adept at doublethink.

  6. What happened to the Libertarian cry, leave us alone! People buy in a neighborhood they like for lots of reasons, low density being one of them. They put down roots. They made big life decisions while complying with the rules. So now others are going to ‘fix’ the problems with the ‘fix’ in which people invested? You can change zoning. But at the very least it needs to be a 20-year or greater phase in. At least give the captives a chance to wrap it up or adapt.

    1. Trust the experts.

    2. You’re not going to get any pod towers thinking that way, Pjibs. Which is the point.

      Oh the horror! A developer isn’t going to be allowed to buy a lot in an existing neighborhood of SFHs, and (with a shitton of Federal money) fill it with high-density housing units full of Section Eight inhabitants! Where is the justice?

      1. They can. They do. I’ve lived it.

  7. Don’t worry, municipalities/neighbors can sue for a house to be historic to also restrict development even with this proposed law. Localities don’t want high rises, promoting more sprawl and more development in areas abutting hazard zones. Couple that with drought.

  8. If you think zoning is bad, then move to a city without any. And relish the future when neighbors convert their houses to auto repair shops, pig farms, and night clubs.

    If you think only the specific zoning you don’t like is bad, then fuck off.

    1. These are the same people who think Houston is a backwater red state fuckhole and chuckle about the yokel cattle fuckers on Twitter from their 200 square foot $2,700/mo NYC studios between flash floods, gang shootings, and race riots.

      1. There’s zoning in Houston. They just call it “deed restrictions” instead.

        Otherwise, you do end up getting a 20 story building dropped in next to your formerly-suburban neighborhood of fenced 3/2 ranchettes. Building roads or other services to accommodate the high-density development….is someone else’s job.

    2. Aaah the minds of radicals. Because obviously no zoning is different to onw another.

      I wouldn’t want most auto repair shops, pig farms, and night clubs which is why I support zoning for sounds and smells(and also pollution although that doesn’t matter here)

      Now why would the state have any right to tell me how many folks can live on my land?

  9. “The measure, according to the official bill analysis, requires “cities and counties to ministerially approve a proposed housing development project containing two residential units on parcels zoned for single-family residential development.”

    People who paid a huge premium to live in a planned development with stipulations on the title to severely limit development options are being robbed of that premium they paid. The fact is that these people paid a premium to live in a planned community because they wanted these stipulations, and you’re stripping their property titles of that value–over their objections and against your will.

    If a private developer had sold them those properties with those stipulations on their title and then, subsequently, reneged, the buyers of those properties would be properly sued for fraud. The government imposing this on unwilling property owners–without compensation–would be the worst example of what amounts to eminent domain abuse in American history.

    P.S. The progressive in Sacramento aren’t supporting this because they’re libertarian capitalists. They’re trying for force higher urban density on unwilling home owners because they’re environmentalists and they see it as a desirable step in green urbanization and the the fight against global warming. They don’t want people in bedroom communities commuting so far to work anymore.

    1. If a private developer had sold them those properties with those stipulations on their title and then, subsequently, reneged, the buyers [developer] of those properties would be properly sued for fraud.

      —-Ken Shultz

      Fixed!

  10. I haven’t read the bill, but i think we’re taking a lot for granted here. For instance, if you live in a neighborhood with the ever despicable HOA, you have a contractual relationship with them. When you moved into the development, you agreed to submit room additions or even house colors to their review. And they have the contractual right to deny your request. i saw no mention that the bill specifically annuls existing contracts, we are just assuming it does. It may be that the only places affected by this bill would be places that have no HOA or other supervisory entities. You can be DAMNED sure no one will be building condos next to Nancy Pelosi, so i bet there’s language that honors existing HOA c c and r’s. Oh, and by the way, asshole Greenhuts attempt to hang this on the last 3 conservatives in California stinks like shit.

  11. Don’t worry Steven, there aren’t enough conservatives in the legislature to do anything about this bill other than to watch is pass or fail based 100% on liberal votes.

    Also, we have about 12,988 additional building laws and about 300,001 local codes and ordinances to dissuade the typical single family home to bother to build any structure on their property.

  12. Conservatives embraced free markets & small government as a useful way to enforce hierarchies after the civil rights movement made explicit jim crow segregation impossible.

    It was never anything but a marriage of convenience, as evidenced by the insurgent Trump/Hawley wing of the party (the reason dot com comment section overrun by these types) moving onto promoting straight-up Herrenvolk democracy. It’s about preserving hierarchies.

    1. Eat shit and die, you dishonest bastard.

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    thật buồn !!

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