Housing — when ‘local control’ goes extreme

POSTED: 4/14/18

Author: Michael Hagerty

Publication: Publication: Marin Independent Journal: Marin Voice


I want to challenge one conclusion that Dick Spotswood made last Sunday. I agree with him that “communities need to step up to the plate and approve appropriately located, right-scaled developments that advance that ideal.”

But then he adds, “They should do it in an organic up-from-the-people method rather than top-down ‘we know best’ approach favored by Sacramento politicians ... .”

Over the past 30 years, Marin has championed this “up-from-the-people method” under the reasonable banner of “local control of housing.” But this local control has morphed into what I call “extreme local control,” where any 50 neighbors can slow the Planning Commission, flood the City Council with complaints, and scare developers away by threatening lawsuits. This “extreme local control” has created more poverty, more environmental damage and more segregation in our beautiful county. No one intended that damage, but these are the end results:

• Poverty: One-half of Marin renters pay more than the recommended 30 percent of income on housing. Homelessness is increasing, and 8,000 people are on the waiting list for housing assistance. Marinites want to house our teachers and service workers, but those workers can’t afford to live here, so 65,000 people commute into Marin every day, clogging our highways.

• Environmental damage: Suburbs like Marin emit more than twice the pollutants per person compared to high-density, transit-rich San Francisco. California will not be able to achieve its emissions reduction in 2030, because excessive sprawl and transportation contributes one-third of all pollution.

• Segregation: Marin is named the most “racially unequal” county in California. Marin voters proudly oppose President Trump’s anti-immigrant stance, but our housing policies make it impossible for immigrants to actually live here.

Marin is not unique in these failures: every county in coastal California has failed to provide enough new housing for the new jobs it has created for the past 10 years, with many high-tech firms threatening to leave the state unless we build more housing.

A letter from 22 urban planning professors concludes: “Cities that block housing out of fears over congestion or aesthetics are prioritizing amenities for a lucky few over basic shelter for the many. ... By accident or intent, our local governments have created and presided over a massive transfer of wealth: from renters to owners, from the poor to the rich, and from the young to the old.”

Dick and I agree that Sen. Scott Wiener’s bill, SB 827, takes far too much local control from Marin, with its eight-story buildings. But we need to have a community conversation about how to give up a little bit of “local control” so that everyone contributes to a better society.

That might take several forms, such as restricting SB 827 to lower height allowances, or restricting the law to rail lines where buildings are already higher, or allowing planning exemptions for “workforce housing” for teachers, firefighters and service workers.

Giving up a little bit of “local control” to make a better society is in Marin’s liberal tradition. The 1965 Fair Housing Act required cities to give up local control of housing discrimination by race or religion. The 1970 Environmental Protection Act required cities to give up local control of polluters, so they could be held to national standards. I hope Marin will continue that grand tradition to make a better society.

Michael Hagerty, of Novato, is professor emeritus in the Graduate School of Management at UC Davis and a member of the Marin County Commission on Aging.

To read original article posting, click here: http://www.marinij.com/opinion/20180414/marin-voice-housing-when-local-control-goes-extreme


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