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Tuesday, March 19 , 2019, 12:06 am | Fair 53º


Randy Alcorn: California, It’s Well Past Time to Put Out the No Vacancy Sign

If all politics are indeed local, Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature aren’t letting that deter them from running roughshod over local communities.

Declaring California’s tight housing market, a “crisis” (isn’t everything these days?), the state government has passed laws that essentially impose growth mandates on local communities. These mandates micromanage key aspects of the housing project approval process and can be enforced with brutal financial penalties for noncompliance.

Irked by widespread foot-dragging from towns and cities to comply with state housing mandates, Newsom has warned local governments that he will not tolerate resistance. The first city to feel his wrath is Huntington Beach, which has been sued by the state for adopting a zoning plan that limits new housing units to a level that state bureaucrats deem insufficient.

To its credit Huntington Beach responded with “This aggression will not stand, man,” and filed a counter suit against the state. All California cities should do the same when bullied by the state’s people-packers.

But, to my disgust and dismay, the official response from my city, Santa Barbara, has been timorous submissiveness.

A person’s town is their extended home, and a person’s home is their castle. Forcing more population on a town is no more acceptable than forcing people to take tenants into their home.

People choose to live in smaller communities because they prefer that quality of life. Increasing population eventually degrades a town’s ambience.

Others may prefer living in chockablock megalopolises, and that is their choice, but forcing people to diminish the conditions of their hometowns to accommodate population quotas set by government central planners is a misguided, egregious imposition that should be vigorously opposed.

Misguided because, at 40 million residents, California is already grossly overpopulated. It reached its safe carrying capacity decades ago.

The consequences are evident in environmental degradation (especially air quality), diminishing biodiversity, soul-stressing traffic congestion, critical strain on infrastructure, diluted public education, massive wildfires and dwindling fresh water supplies leading to rationing.

Accommodating more population is exactly the wrong thing to do. It is well past time for California to put out the “no vacancy” sign.

Since the 1980s, virtually all of California’s burgeoning population has been and continues to be fueled by foreign immigration and the immigrants’ high rates of procreation. There has actually been a net out-migration of U.S. citizens from the state over the past 20 years.

Yet, Newsom wants to put out the welcome mat. He has vowed that California will provide “sanctuary to all who seek it” and has called on the City of San Diego and Imperial and San Diego counties to respond to the influx of illegal immigrants by making greater efforts to support them.

Furthermore, he says that the state government also needs to make a greater effort to support illegal immigrants. Therefore, he has proposed expanding Medi-Cal to cover all residents under 27 years old regardless of their immigration status, a proposal that the Legislative Analyst’s Office calculates would cost taxpayers $330 million annually.

Newsom says anti-immigrant views are “fundamentally at odds with California values.” That’s rather presumptuous. What isn’t is that his views are fundamentally at odds with common sense — a value he seemingly lacks.

If California has a housing shortage so severe that the state must force residents to sacrifice their quality of life to provide more of it, making the state even more attractive for the leading cause of the shortage — immigration — is irrational.

Newsom has made the state’s year-round wildfire threat one of his top priorities and spent his first full day in office drafting a stronger wildfire policy that includes managing risk for what he calls “social vulnerability factors.”

While a warming climate certainly exacerbates the risk of wildfires, the most frequent cause of those fires, and their immense intensity, is increasing human population that has pushed into wildlands. Since 1990, 60 percent of California’s new homes have been built in the wildland-urban boundary. That “social vulnerability factor” is not mitigated by encouraging more population growth.

The state’s official policies on housing and immigration are self-contradictory, misguided and shortsighted. They will not solve the problem but only perpetuate it and make things worse.

The typical rebuttal to curbing population growth is the absurd contention that without it an economy will collapse. Most economic activity is recurring — groceries, new roofs, new tires, etc. Economies are scalable to the size of the market. Their vibrancy is not dependent on size alone. California’s economy was vibrant when the state had half its current population.

For 20 years now, the people-packers in Santa Barbara — who have gradually replaced the wiser stewards of the city — have warned that the lack of affordable “workforce housing” is an imminent threat that will doom the local economy and leave Santa Barbara an economic ghost town.

And so, more housing is built, but it’s never enough and it’s never affordable for most of the workforce. And, yet, Santa Barbara has not become a ghost town.

If housing is so unaffordable in Santa Barbara, why are there so few vacant housing units? Clearly, they are affordable for enough people — just not for everyone.

What happens if Santa Barbara or any California city doesn’t increase housing? Well, it would discourage adding more population while encouraging population to stabilize at a comfortable level that doesn’t tax scarce resources, and that allows the towns to retain or improve their quality of life. It leaves them to be desirable places.

That’s not a bad thing. It’s a very good thing. Not everyone who wants to can or should live in Santa Barbara. It’s not a right or an entitlement, even for those born there.

There are many far more affordable places to live. Why ruin a place trying to accommodate everyone who wants to live there?

Population increase is not an inevitability that California and its communities have to accept.

— Randy Alcorn is a Santa Barbara political observer. Contact him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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