Question: Do you share the assemblymember’s sentiments that housing policies should be left to local and regional governments to determine? If not, please elaborate. What are your thoughts on the state legislature’s housing policies in recent years? If so,
- What would you, as an elected official, propose as potential solutions if South County’s city governments were left to their own devices?
- What do you see as appropriate solutions or methods to ensure housing is available to new residents given the town’s population projections?
- What sort of impediments locally could potentially stand in the way of accomplishing your proposal?
Answers: Yes, I do. San Juan Capistrano desires to build a community that enriches the lives of all who live here. We don’t want to be just another sea of anonymous four-story stucco cubes that isolate our workers from their wealthy employers. State-wide mandates undermine our ability to grow our community to meet housing challenges in a manner that fits our residents’ interests.
- A: The question appears to stem from the assumption that, without the state guiding the way, local governments are incapable of creating a full variety of housing within our communities. That is backwards. Decades of flawed state policies are largely responsible for issues that are common in communities statewide. For instance, San Juan Capistrano has a large working-class population living in suboptimal conditions. And yet State policies disincentivize landlords from building additional good-quality housing at an affordable price. Existing State incentives for low-end housing construction (at the expense of market rate housing) simply help to ensure that the working poor remain relegated to substandard housing and that a shortage of quality housing persists. If we were to build more market rate housing, prices for these homes would not be as steep, natural upward home ownership progression would begin to churn again, and landlords would be incentivized to remodel and rehabilitate existing housing to compete for tenants. If the State really wants to get serious about addressing the housing crisis, they will first need to reevaluate their burdensome regulatory policies, especially the CEQA process for ALL housing construction (not just affordable housing), and to make construction more affordable by shedding numerous building regulations. It costs, on average, about $100,000 more to build a market rate house in California than in any other state, and those costs are passed on directly to home buyers. That’s a HUGE obstacle to overcome for a family seeking to progress from affordable housing to market rate housing. How can California nurture and sustain a middle class if we cannot build them affordable places to live? I don’t want multiple families living together in a two-bedroom apartment. But through rampant, costly overregulation, the State has made it very difficult for these families to climb out of there to form our next middle class. The State government has regulated us out of the California dream and created a perpetual underclass who have been somehow led to believe that those in Sacramento who designed the system that is keeping them trapped there are their saviors.
- B: Assuming we accept the State’s population projections at face value (and that is under dispute by people better informed than myself), and that we have a moral obligation to meet them, eliminating the many infrastructure and housing development cost barriers seems an appropriate place to start. The State legislature has already signaled their understanding that it is their policies that impede housing development far more significantly than does local zoning. That’s why they removed CEQA requirements for affordable housing. Why? So someone might be able to afford to build it! So why not lower the red tape across the board? Making it possible for builders to build attractive homes at lower cost would bring greater value to home buyers. As increasing numbers of market rate homes are made available, the market will adjust accordingly, older homes wll become starter homes again, and young families could once again afford a starter home and send their kids out to play in their very own yard instead of some pocket park. This is the way it works in virtually every other state where costly regulations have not crushed the housing market for the middle class. It’s high time that the California legislature learned that no matter how hard it tries to do so, it cannot repeal the Law of Supply and Demand.
- C: I think for the most part San Juan Capistrano has embraced this challenge. We value the charm of our historic community. That said, we also embrace the challenge of offering zoning that balances our dedication to our history, while providing a diversity of housing. We are meeting our RHNA goals. We have seen the development of the Farm and Petra Avelina developments, and we have sought to address the challenge of affordable housing and housing for our most at-risk population through the building of the Groves Senior Housing Project and our upcoming permanent supportive housing project at the City Hall site. But until the State can solve infrastructure concerns, we must be allowed to pause when pausing is appropriate for our city. The State government appears very quick to levy mandates on local communities, but has done very little to build more dams, aqueducts, or energy capacity. Californians love to brag that we are the world’s fifth biggest economy. Then why is our State government mandating that our residents ration water and energy as though we were living in the developing world?
- If not: The state housing policy I can best live with is the RHNA process. The reason for this is because it sets a goal for each municipality and then gives the local governments the latitude to come up with the policies to meet that goal in a manner that best serves their community. The challenge is that in addition to the RHNA process, the state has since passed over a half dozen policies in the last six or seven years that impede local communities zoning authorities. If RHNA goals exist, and sanctions exist for not meeting those goals, anything beyond that is micro-management by our State government. And by any standards, that constitutes abjectly poor leadership practices.
Q: Have there been any zoning code changes in regard to housing that your city has made in recent years–that weren’t a requirement of state law–which you can point to as either a success story or failure? If so, what was the outcome, and why was it successful or a failure?
A: Your question is flawed. Only a relatively new community has the luxury of planning ahead of the State’s mandates. San Juan Capistrano.is an historic community that is all but built out.
Q: What responsibility do you feel the local government has in preparing for population growth and facilitating affordable housing? How would you plan for your town’s growing population?
A: I think we are addressing our future needs in San Juan. I am proud of the creative efforts made by our staff to reimagine how to incorporate mixed use into some of our older commercial areas. And, while I believe that, absent the huge regulatory burden the State has burdened us with, the free market would solve the problem naturally; meanwhile, San Juan Capistrano has a genuine need for more affordable housing to help our current residents find better accommodations. We believe our RHNA changes provide a good basis for doing so.
Q: What do you want your city’s housing to look like, i.e. what mix of housing types would you like to see? If you could put that in terms of percentage, what would be your ideal breakdown of housing types?
A: Given that San Juan Capistrano is already mostly built out, any answer would be hypothetical. We all understand the need for housing that is more affordable. How we would get there is where I would differ from many in Sacramento. Government red tape has never made anything cheaper or more plentiful.
Q: Where would you propose new housing could/should go in your city?
A: I think our last General Plan update was creative and practical. It looked at existing commercial and industrial areas, and it considered how a developer might be incentivized to invest in improving older areas and building new mixed-use housing.
Q: Do you see any consequences of not preparing for housing demands? If so, what are some of those consequences?
A: I think we ARE experiencing those consequences right now. The State created so many barriers to development over the past 3 decades that now we are all facing the consequences. Instead of creating solutions perhaps we should just unwind the bureaucracy that created the crisis. CEQA was designed to protect the environment. Yet over 85-percent of CEQA lawsuits involve urban infill areas. That makes it harder to build closer to where the jobs are, which means that commuters are sitting in traffic on longer commutes. How is that serving our environment?
Q: Without state laws in play, what incentivizes cities to prepare for population growth and facilitate affordable housing?
A: Again, this question assumes that creating affordable housing is a function of government. When one compares the results in California to the results in most of the rest of the country, it is fairly evident that the lack of affordable housing is a result of government creating barriers to development.
Q: How do you reconcile balancing individual homeowner’s rights with maintaining, what’s often referred to as, “neighborhood charm”?
A: This question cuts both ways. I argue that if my neighbor spends their life’s blood, sweat, and tears toiling to acquire their dream home, some far away state government with little to no regard for that neighborhood should not have the power to unilaterally depreciate the value of their home or otherwise alter the fabric of their neighborhood by mandating one-size-fits-all zoning changes from hundreds of miles away and without any sort of due process. Is that not an individual property rights issue? Local government works because, as F.A. Hayek observed, useful knowledge is never centralized. The State government cannot possibly create housing laws that meet the needs of cities ranging in size from San Juan Capistrano to Los Angeles. It is utter hubris to believe that they can, yet they have been trying with greater stridency for several decades, and it is only getting worse. It is time that they stop trying. As the saying goes, “When you’ve dug yourself into a hole, the first thing is to put down the shovel.”