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On local government by Bob Pinzler 12-12-19

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by Bob Pinzler

Starting in 1969, the State has required local governments to add a “housing element” to their general plans to meet certain goals, specifically for low, middle and market rate housing. The Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) numbers are updated every eight years. These numbers dictate how many new housing units communities must build.

Despite this law, 97.6 percent of local governments do not achieve their RHNA goals. There is no penalty for that failure. 

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In 2017, Senator Scott Wiener, a former San Francisco supervisor, introduced SB 35, to try to put teeth into this system. After much negotiation with a somewhat skeptical Governor Brown, it was signed into law that year. 

Supposedly, the factors that  the RHNA housing unit numbers are determined by statistics. But, in fact, much of it is political. For years, the burden of housing has been placed on areas where land is available, such as the Inland Empire and Ventura County. This policy has created two to three-hour, one-way commutes. Jobs didn’t follow housing.

This year, the Southern California Association of Governments, with the unfortunate acronym SCAG, reversed that historical process and assigned the burden of housing needs to the coastal areas, where the jobs are. This includes the South Bay. 

Under the approved plan, Hermosa Beach’s requirement for new housing units by 2019 went from 334 units to 566; Manhattan Beach’s from 103 units to 791; and Redondo Beach’s from 2,212 units to 2,591. SCAG delegates approved the changes in a 43-19 vote, with two of the three delegates from the South Bay Cities Council of Governments opposed.

SB35’s assumption is that California has a housing crisis. In fact, it doesn’t. It has an affordable housing crisis. According to experts in the field, this law will not create more affordable housing in areas where land costs are high, such as in the South Bay. In fact, the disincentive to build may exacerbate the cost problem since market rate housing here is not seen as “affordable.”.

Another goal of SB35 is to provide incentive to produce dense housing by lowering parking requirements. In areas where reasonable transit options are available, this makes sense. It doesn’t in the South Bay.

We are not New York. I’m glad. I left there, leaving a city of perpetual grayness. It is my hope that we never try to recreate that in the South Bay. Aren’t the abominable high rises along the beach south of the Redondo Pier proof enough of what we don’t want to see here? 

 

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