Redondo Beach Mayor Bill Brand drafts initiative to block SB single family zoning bill

Redondo Beach Mayor Bill Brand points to homes that illustrate his concern about SB 9, which would allow multiple units on lots zoned for single family homes. Photo by JP Cordero

Redondo Beach Mayor Bill Brand leads effort to wrest city planning control from the State of California 

by Ryan McDonald and Mark McDermott 

Redondo Beach Mayor Bill Brand visited the State Capitol building in Sacramento in early 2018 to meet with state legislators about the numerous efforts underway to address the state’s housing crisis. 

Two of those efforts were authored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco). Senate Bill 827 would have required cities to allow four- and five-story apartments and condominiums within a half-mile of transit centers and in jobs-rich areas. Senate Bill 828 used a part of the state’s housing law, called the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA), to require cities and counties to double the area available for condominium and apartment uses, and to increase overall residential zoning. SB 827 failed to gain traction, while a weakened version of SB 828 passed.

At the time, however, over 60 other pieces of housing legislation were in various stages of development in Sacramento. Wiener was involved in many of them. For Brand, the implications were clear. Bills would keep coming, creating what he viewed as a fundamental reordering of the way land-use decisions would be made by shifting power away from local government to Sacramento. 

“At the time, I realized that for Scott Wiener, this was a long game,” Brand said. “This was his call to action, and rallying cry. This was going to go on for years, this idea that the cities and counties are responsible for the housing shortage and affordability ​​crisis. He was going to strip our control of what goes on in our town.” 

Brand began his political career in the early 2000s as a citizen activist opposing major development in Redondo Beach’s King Harbor. This has trained him in thinking about “the long game,” because no sooner had one development proposal been defeated by activists than another would appear. It was like a game of whack-a-mole designed to wear down opposition. 

“And so I started thinking about something similar we had done in Redondo Beach, which was an initiative that went to the voters,” Brand said, referring to Measure DD, which required voter approval for all large developments in Redondo Beach. 

“In this case, it would be the voters of California, who want control of zoning in their towns. Do you want faraway legislators doing it, who have never even been to your town? Or do you want your local agencies, represented by people who live where you live? I thought the answer was clear. 

“I realized if you were going to have that kind of transfer of power, you were going to have to amend the State Constitution, which I had never read. So I sat down and read it, and figured out, ‘Oh, I see. We are going to have to amend Article 11, and transfer the power back to local communities.” 

Brand discovered that any citizen could request the assistance of the Office of Legislative Counsel —  the attorneys who help legislators write laws —  to assist in the writing of an initiative. He followed their guidelines, petitioned for help, and was duly assigned attorneys to help him write an initiative. After months of back and forth, by early 2019, he had language for an initiative that would ensure local control of zoning. 

“I am sitting here with this statewide initiative to strip Sacramento of its ability to rezone the whole state, thinking, ‘Okay, what am I going to do with this?’” Brand recalled. “So I just kind of sat on it.” 

Wiener kept working. In 2019, he authored SB 50, a sweeping piece of legislation that proposed allowing up to four housing units on land zoned for single-family homes throughout the state, and limited cities’ ability to block four-to five-story apartment buildings proposed for sites close to transit hubs, or in jobs-rich areas. SB 50 died in committee. But Wiener, as Brand had intuited, was far from done. This year, he co-authored SB 9, which eliminates single-family zoning statewide by allowing up to four units on all single-family parcels. On September 15, SB 9 was signed into law.

“The intent of SB 9 is clear — to streamline so homeowners can create a duplex or subdivide their property — and aims to set California’s housing availability on a path of inclusion, so that more families can attain the California dream,” SB 9’s lead author, Senate President pro tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) said in a statement after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the bill.

And so last week, Brand and a group of like-minded civic leaders unveiled the Community Zoning initiative, which would block the state from imposing most kinds of zoning requirements on cities and counties. Brand and his allies have until April of next year to collect the 1.5 million signatures needed to qualify the initiative for the November 2022 statewide ballot.

Brand said he’d hoped SB 9 would be defeated in the legislature, but as soon as it became law the only way to defend his and other communities against its impact was to go forward with the initiative. 

“Scott Wiener has no business taking his broad brush to the entire state of California as if he knows best,” Brand said. “He has no business telling Redondo Beach what our zoning should be, any more than I have any business telling Scott Wiener what San Francisco’s zoning should be.” 

Predictably, Wiener is opposed to Brand’s initiative. Were it to qualify for the ballot and pass, it would be “an absolute disaster for the State of California,” he said, a state already suffering from a profound shortage of affordable housing.

Wiener is a product of local government. He is a former member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and once served as president of a neighborhood association. He said he would rather SB 9 and the bills that preceded it not be necessary; Sacramento has stepped in only because local governments have so thoroughly failed to ensure enough housing is built.

“To be clear, in an ideal world, the state wouldn’t have to be involved. Cities would just do what they need to do to produce enough housing. That would be my ideal scenario: that cities would just do what they need to do, and the state would only have minimal involvement, more of a coordinating role. But that’s not reality. And we know that it’s not reality from decades of experience. Cajoling, and asking pretty please, unfortunately that hasn’t been enough,” Wiener said.

Wiener suggested Brand’s initiative will worsen the housing crisis.

“It would ensure a perpetual massive housing shortage with all the damage that flows from that: increased homelessness and poverty, pushing out working families, forcing people into long commutes and overcrowded housing,” he said.

Few dispute that California has a housing crisis. California home prices are the highest in the country; one-third of California tenants fork over more than half their paycheck to a landlord every month; about 130,000 of the state’s residents are homeless. This has occurred as housing production in California has plummeted, and many see obstacles put up by local government as the reason. SB 9 and its predecessors have attempted to boost housing production by giving local governments fewer ways to stop housing from being built, and 

What irks Brand is that the state’s approach is largely market-based, relying on supply and demand to create more housing in the hopes of driving prices down rather than more directly addressing the creation of more affordable housing. Brand denies that his bill is a result of “NIMBYism,” short for “Not In My Back Yard.” He believes that what is at stake in the battle between SB 9 and the Community Planning initiative is the survival of the American Dream in California. 

“What is missing in so much of the discussion of this is the speculation that is going on in the real estate industry,” Brand said. “This is really an anti-speculation initiative, as well as an affordable housing push. What the state is doing is taking the lid off residential real estate and opening it up to Wall Street. NIMBY is not the problem. What they want to engage in is really WIMBY, or Wall Street In My Back Yard. Institutional investment is driving speculation across the world to take over real estate, and turn it into another financial engine for their investors….Blanket upzoning with no affordability requirement is exactly what they need. We want homes for people, not investors.” 

Similar charges helped tank SB 827 several years ago. SB 9 carry some protections for poorer tenants. The bill cannot be used, for example, for rent-restricted housing, or housing that has held a tenant within the previous three years. It also, Wiener notes, does not stop cities from imposing affordability requirements on land it impacts, or undo those that already exist. It’s uncertain, on the other hand, what the fate of the state’s existing rent control law, which limits annual rent hike to five percent per year plus a cost-of-living-increase, would be under Brand’s initiative.

More broadly, initiative opponents counter that affordability charges are a smokescreen, an appeal to a virtue the initiative’s supporters don’t really believe in. Consider Redondo Beach’s response to the current RHNA process. State law requires that a city’s “housing element” plan for enough housing for multiple income levels, including low- and very-low-income housing. A draft of the Redondo’s housing element, submitted over the summer, indicated that a majority of the lower-income requirement could be met with five sites, totaling a little more than 14 acres in the northeastern portion of the city, an area that includes land occupied by aerospace firm Northrop Grumman. The sites, it claimed, are “ripe for development.” 

The problem, the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development pointed out, is that none of the sites are vacant. Some contained national chains with long leases, including a motorcycle dealership, a Baskin Robbins and a Vons supermarket. In a letter, the state required the city demonstrate the sites were viable, or choose new ones. (Last month, the council approved its housing element, and city staff wrote of HCD’s concerns that the city was continuing to investigate the sites, and that some of the property owners had expressed interest in future redevelopment.)

Current law requires only that cities plan a certain amount of housing, not that it actually be built, and housing elements are often examples of meeting the letter of a law rather than its spirit. In this, Redondo’s plan was not particularly egregious. Beverly Hills, for example, is attempting to meet part of its housing obligations by forecasting a 185-unit, mixed-income apartment complex on what is now a 10-story office building occupied by law firms, medical offices and salons. Wiener argues that these are the impulses of local government that Brand’s initiative would unchain. 

“There are cities that take our housing responsibilities seriously,” Wiener said. “There are cities that don’t. And there are cities that are actively looking to avoid their obligations about housing.”

It is not clear where Redondo Beach fits in such a classification. On the one hand, the most significant increase in affordable housing that has occurred in the Beach Cities in decades occurred in Redondo Beach in 2019, when Brand and the City Council required that 20 percent of the 300 residential units proposed for the Galleria project be affordable. 

“The city did that, not the state,” Brand said. “All the state did was force us to upzone through the RHNA process, which requires no affordable housing [be built]. But we conditioned the approval of that project on affordable housing.” 

On the other hand, Redondo and the other Beach Cities have continued to fall woefully short of the affordable housing goals set by the state. Grace Peng, a Redondo Beach resident, has written several letters to the council, deriding what she declares to be a foot-dragging approach to building more housing, and its long-term consequences for the city.

“Because doing nothing is making a decision, right? And the decision is to make our city increasingly unaffordable. And then it becomes an optimization problem. If you make it affordable to only people with, say, the top five percent of incomes, you’re not allowing school teachers, or even rocket scientists to live there,” Peng said in an interview. “Do we want to ensure that we never have another school teacher live in our community again, or nurse or even a primary care doctor? I mean, is that a community you really want to be a part of?”

For supporters of Brand’s initiative, however, the battle over the RHNA process is merely one indication that the state has already gone too far in asserting control: if the attempts to comply seem ridiculous, it is only because the law itself is absurd.

Jim Light is a Redondo resident who keeps a close watch on housing issues. He’s also a longtime friend of Brand. He looked over early versions of the initiative. The South Bay is a prime example of how shifting power to Sacramento results in outcomes that make little sense to the people affected, Light said. Bills that tie housing possibilities to transit or job availability have the effect of rewarding places that have been better at holding back the new urbanist philosophy that guides much of current state housing policy.

“The areas they exclude are the areas that are the least dense already, like Palos Verdes. They’re far away from transit, they don’t have a lot of buses stopping there, and they’re certainly not a job center,” Light said. “And so areas that are elite already get a pass on it, while cities like Redondo that have accommodated a fantastic amount of growth, if you look at population density per square mile, we get penalized for it.”

Light is correct that many of the policies enacted in the last few years do not spread density around evenly. It’s unclear, however, how much progress cities would make on housing under Brand’s initiative as long as they continue to view adding it as a penalty or, as Light later referred to it, “a punishment.” 

Battleground California

Under existing California law, cities and counties are generally free to pass laws about purely local affairs. But if one of those ordinances conflicts with a state law, the local law must give way. Some cities in California are known as “charter cities,” including Redondo Beach. Their laws can prevail over state laws, except on matters of “statewide concern.”

Housing has met this threshold since at least 1980, when California approved the Housing Element Law, declaring that “the availability of housing is of vital statewide importance.” Two years later, the state passed the Housing Affordability Act, commonly known as the HAA or the “anti-NIMBY law,” which had as its goal “effectively curbing the ability of local governments to deny, reduce density for, or render infeasible housing development projects.” The state has frequently amended the two laws over the years, including in 1990 when it made clear that charter cities were subject to the HAA, and in 2017, when one of several housing bills to emerge from the session created updates to the RHNA system that Redondo and other cities are now engaging with.

Cities have challenged these laws in court with logic similar to the underpinnings of the Brand initiative. These attempts have failed. In September of this year, the California Court of Appeal published an opinion in a case coming from San Mateo, a charter city in the San Francisco Bay area, which had denied permits for a four-story apartment building. A trial court upheld the city’s denial of the permit, ruling that the HAA violated the California Constitution. The city had argued that an individual city’s decision to deny a housing development was not a matter of “statewide concern.” The Court of Appeal declined to follow this argument and reversed the trial court, noting the legislature’s past findings that “the actions and policies of local governments limiting the approval of affordable housing were a partial cause” of the state’s housing crisis.

As the court noted, the legislature removed the word “affordable” from these findings in 2001. The stated reasoning from Sacramento was that intransigence from cities and counties had gotten so bad that it was now impacting the availability of housing in general, not just affordable housing. It is, however, the sort of thing that fuels one of Brand’s primary objections to the state’s more prominent role in housing decisions: that it is not really about affordability.

“Take SB 9,” Brand said. “While it sounds good to upzone the entire state, and affordable housing then trickles down…That has been a loser’s game for decades. Trickle-down doesn’t work. Wiener is living in the past, and a lot of people are following him, unfortunately. It goes back to supply and demand. It’s an economic theory, but it does not work when it comes to residential development. High density does not make housing more affordable. San Francisco is the most densely populated city in the state, and the most expensive. The most densely populated cities are the most expensive to live in all over the world.” 

The obvious response to such a criticism is that, under supply and demand, the housing would be even more expensive without such density. Backers note that, even if the value of a plot of land were to increase because more density is permitted, when the price is divided by the higher number of possible units, each unit would be cheaper.

This fails to assuage some supporters of Brand’s initiative. One of Brand’s closest allies in the Community Planning initiative is John Heath, the president of the United Homeowners Association II, a non-profit organization that advocates for residents living in the unincorporated area of LA County east of La Brea Avenue and west of Crenshaw Boulevard. This area is largely an African American community. Heath became involved with the initiative because he believes SB 9 and other state efforts to address the housing crisis will lead to the displacement of many residents of South and East LA. 

Heath said he is trying to get people to understand that “land use policy coming from Sacramento that purports to be about affordable housing… in reality [is] Christmas gifts being given to large institutional real estate entities that will take single-family properties in South LA and elsewhere and turn them into commodities. That is what got me involved.”

“We are affordable housing advocates, not just in the form of low-income housing but also ownership housing. Young people in the tech industry making good money can’t find a place to live,” Heath said. “The best way to think about this is that in many City of LA, and areas south and east of LA, as well as the Valley….These are largely Black and Brown working-class communities. These are areas with lower land values. If you are an institutional investor, these are areas you are going to be looking at. It’s happening everywhere, but very intensely in certain parts of town. Gentrification and displacement are very real issues.”

The connection between market rate housing and displacement is currently a fertile area for research. A 2019 paper by economist Evan Mast that is often cited by pro-housing groups indicates that the construction of market rate housing units in one neighborhood tends to create vacancies in middle-income neighborhoods elsewhere within three to five years. In other words, well off people are no longer renting as many of the apartments that poorer people might be able to afford. Another study, however, released last February by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, found that while market rate units don’t drive up rents for a regional market, they may contribute to increases at the neighborhood level; in other words, that gleaming new apartment complex opening down the block might cause the rent in your dusty old building to rise, not fall. These results are not incompatible. Making more of something will eventually lower its price, but particularly with housing, the effects will be neither instantaneous, nor uniform, and some people could be caught in between.

Housing insecurity has long been the default status of America’s lower castes. Official government policy simultaneously kept Black people “far from white residential areas” and “shifted African-American populations away from downtown business districts,” Richard Rothstein wrote in “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America.” With almost all neighborhoods off-limits, Black people lacked leverage with landlords, and endured rents far higher than their housing conditions might suggest. This trend continues today. As the sociologist Matthew Desmond documented in “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” the difference in median rent difference between low-income, minority-heavy neighborhoods, and wealthier, whiter areas is typically far less dramatic than the income disparities of their residents would suggest. People in down-market neighborhoods often adjust by living three or four to a room. Demographers distinguish between “density,” the ratio of people to a fixed land area, and “crowding,” the ratio of people to the number of habitable rooms in a fixed land area. The Los Angeles metro area has the worst “crowding” in the country, a phenomenon linked to thousands of COVID-19 deaths.

And although price increases in some once-affordable markets have been especially rapid in the last decade, it is also true that the cresting of “statewide concern” with housing as an issue coincides with an increase in the number of white-collar white people affected by it. Even supporters of the state’s more aggressive stance on housing note that the quantity of state housing bills began to ramp up about six years ago when rents and home values had increased to the point that they started severely impacting not just the poor, but the middle and upper-middle classes. This was particularly true in urban areas that had once shed families fearful of crime and blight but were now drawing back childless millennials. (“Among movers and shakers in media and politics, gentrification may truly seem to be everywhere they go. Often, it’s because they’re bringing it with them,” housing researcher Will Stancil wrote in 2019.) The YIMBY movement — which stands for “Yes In My Back Yard” and has become a force in state and local housing policy — draws many of its most eloquent and forceful advocates from these ranks.

Anthony Dedousis is the director of research and policy at Abundant Housing LA, a pro-housing nonprofit advocacy organization. He comes from a background in the business and tech worlds, and his skills in data and visualization proved useful when he began volunteering at the organization three years ago. Recently, he has been working on Abundant Housing’s effort to send letters to cities across Southern California, including those in the South Bay, pointing out potential issues with their housing elements. In an interview, Dedousis referred to Brand’s proposal as “the sore loser initiative.”

“The democratically elected state legislature has taken modest actions to address the high cost of housing, something that is high on the list of Californians’ concerns. And the proponents of this initiative essentially want a do-over. They want to allow cities to pick and choose which state laws they want to follow,” he said.

Votes in the legislature have been mostly one-sided affairs, passing by large margins, and Dedousis said that opposition to the state’s increased housing goals is often the work of people in wealthy, connected communities. These claims form a sort of mirror image of what Brand and others say about backers of the state’s housing bills: that they represent the triumph of real estate interests, not affordable housing. 

“You will see hundreds of thousands of dollars flowing from the building industry to Sacramento, and for good reason. They just got legislation that upzones the entire state of California,” Brand said. “It’s a dream come true for them. It’s Christmas. And it does nothing to actually solve the housing crisis.”

Building trades organizations have backed SB 9, along with many chambers of commerce, developers, and real estate trade groups. But so did Habitat for Humanity, the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, the Natural Resources Defense Council and a Boyle Heights nonprofit called Innercity Struggle. 

The list of the SB 9’s  opponents can seem equally incompatible: wealthy enclaves like Cupertino and Malibu pair with working-class cities like Carson and South Gate; the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has locked arms with the Latino Alliance for Community Engagement. John Mirisch, a city councilmember in Beverly Hills, and Damion Goodmon, an activist in South Los Angeles, both describe the law as a giveaway to the investor class. 

Housing, it seems, is so challenging to resolve in part because it scrambles the political divides that have come to define state and national politics.

The golden era of the Golden State

In an Easy Reader profile published last year, Brand recalled his arrival in Redondo Beach with vivid awe. He was eight years old, motoring down Harbor Drive in a red 1960 Chrysler New Yorker. He and his family had just moved to Southern California from Dallas.

“I’m hanging out the window of the station wagon going, ‘We’re going to live here?’” Brand said.

For Brand, the initiative effort is both political and personal. His attempts to preserve Redondo are a reflection of how much he treasures the beach and a small-town atmosphere, causes to which he has dedicated his life for the last two decades. They are also revealing of profound changes in the State’s approach to housing, politics and the environment.

The Baby Boom fueled the period of the most sustained growth in the history of the South Bay and the rest of California. Between 1940 and 1960, the population of the Beach Cities more than tripled. Much of this growth was ramshackle and poorly planned. Housing faced few design standards, and the area’s population, then predominantly working-class, crowded in. “Between the center of Manhattan and the beach is a network of passageways referred to as ‘avenues’ and ‘streets.’ They are alleys. Some are so narrow a strong man could spit from one front door across the ‘street’ onto someone else’s door,” read a Los Angeles Times story from 1965.

That year, Governor Pat Brown signed legislation requiring municipalities to address zoning in a more systematic manner, what would become known as a city’s “general plan.” A preference for unimpeded ocean views and a loathing of traffic has long been a part of the South Bay’s identity, but these early planning documents called for far more housing than is currently allowed in the South Bay. Hermosa’s first general plan called for a maximum zoning capacity of about 29,000 people; today, the city has about 19,500 people, and its latest general plan, approved in 2017, leaves little room for any more. The land-use plan that the Manhattan Beach City Council approved in 1967 allowed for a maximum population of 55,565 people; today, Manhattan Beach has about 35,500 people and is similarly maxed out. These changes have echoed throughout the state. Over the last decade, California, which now has more than twice as many people as it did in the mid-60s, has averaged just 80,000 housing units per year, the majority of them single-family homes.  

What changed? In 1966, the year Brand arrived in Redondo Beach, the number of people living in suburbs exceeded the number of people living in major cities for the first time in U.S. history, and Californians elected a former actor named Ronald Reagan to replace Brown in the governor’s office. Brown, whose son Jerry would also go on to serve as Governor, served during an unprecedented boom in housing construction. During his two terms, the state averaged nearly a quarter-million permitted units per year, a majority of which were in multi-family housing. In his 2020 book “Golden Gates: Fighting For Housing in America,” Conor Dougherty points out that the housing boom was propelled by a Cold War consensus that makes today’s politics unrecognizable. “Dynamite for infrastructure was liberal. Damming rivers was liberal,” wrote Dougherty, who is a California-based housing reporter for the New York Times. “Building a 400-mile aqueduct through nature and building power plants to propel it to factory farms and over the mountains and into a parched south land, and doing all this for the purpose of mass building of new subdivisions, that was liberal too.”

Both massive public works projects and individual homes have become much more difficult to build since Reagan signed the California Environmental Quality Act, around the time of the first Earth Day celebration in 1970. CEQA, as it is commonly abbreviated, is pilloried for slowing down housing production. (Brand’s initiative would leave CEQA in force.) But it can’t explain everything. In many years leading up to the Great Recession, for example, homebuilding rates in California’s interior were higher than those of the country as a whole. Rather, the malleability of the environment as a motivation against housing production helps reveal why housing is so hard to build in particular parts of the state. As Dougherty points out, environmentalism, in the ‘70s, was bound up with the anti-growth movement, and focused on smaller, local battles that had more to do with quality of life. Though it raged against “sprawl” and the destruction of open space, seemingly well-intended measures like expanded lot size requirements had the effect of increasing these things, by making it easier to build where there was no one around to object.

The result today is a contorted political arrangement in which self-identified progressives scorn infill development, and its attendant environmental benefits compared to car-dependent exurbs, out of a pervasive yet ill-defined mistrust of “developers.” A sign of the ways housing crosses boundaries of California politics emerged last summer, when President Donald Trump and then HUD Secretary Ben Carson targeted Wiener in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. In what appeared to be an attempt to turn around bad polling numbers among suburban voters, they tried to tie Wiener’s upzoning proposals to the protests that followed the murder of George Floyd, noting that the city of Minneapolois voted to end single-family zoning “a few months before it voted to abolish its police force.”

In a 2019 study, Stanford political scientists examined support for new housing among cross-sections of liberals and conservatives, homeowners and renters. Liberal homeowners, the authors found, were “barely more likely” than conservative homeowners to support the construction of apartments in their neighborhood, and more opposed to the construction of affordable housing than conservative renters. “The stakes arising from home ownership present complex influences for liberals that are less present for conservatives,” the authors meekly conclude.

Brand’s coalition is indicative of this. It is diverse, both ethnically and politically. It includes Heath, a progressive advocate for affordability who is African-American; Peggy Huang, the Republican mayor of Yorba Linda who is Asian-American; and Jovina Mendoza, a first-generation Mexican-American who serves on the Brentwood City Council (in the East Bay, not LA). 

Huang said that there is a misperception that proponents of the initiative are all from wealthy areas and are against building housing. 

“We had a public comment come in that said, ‘Oh, cities like Yorba Linda are rich white people who do not want us to build,’” she said. “And I looked at them and I said, ‘First of all, I am not white….I am pretty damned Asian. And in my city, nearly 50 percent of students are on the free lunch program, so that tells you we are not a rich city.’” 

Huang is a government veteran, having served in the state Senate in the ‘90s and in several capacities for the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), including chairing its regional RHNA subcommittee and appeals board. She is a believer in the RHNA process, and two of her council colleagues actually faced an unsuccessful recall effort after the council approved projects intended to meet the city’s housing allocation numbers. She simply believes SB 9 is unfair to cities like hers who have abided by the state’s efforts to create more housing and now will have little control over what kind of housing is built in their neighborhoods. 

“It is punishing nearly 600 cities and counties in the state of California for a few that do not want to build,” Huang said, noting that Yorba Linda obtained state and federal funding to build transitional housing and housing for veterans. “We met RHNA and exceeded it. We were creative in how we did things…We go all out in terms of innovation to make it happen. We are committed not only to RHNA but really to the purpose of serving our residents and their needs. And so to have the state say, ‘Well, you’re not doing anything, we’re going to punish you and we are going to tell you how it’s done.’ That’s really offensive.”

Grace Peng, the Redondo resident who has written critically of Redondo’s housing policies, takes issue with the notion that housing is a “punishment.”

“Having your elderly parent who doesn’t even drive anymore so that you can just pop by on a bicycle or walk over, that’s not a punishment: That’s a reward for a well-planned city,” Peng said. “More traffic, more cars, more pollution, that’s the punishment.”  

When Peng moved to Redondo Beach with her husband, they rented in South Redondo. Both of them are PhDs, and they eventually bought a home in North Redondo, in part to be able to bike to work in the satellite industry that the city hosts. Peng, who got her PhD in chemical physics, came to work on satellites used to study climate change. As much debate as there is about the affordability impacts of upzoning, the environmental impacts are much clearer: enhancing density reduces vehicle trips, and emissions with it. The inability, or unwillingness, of many self-identified environmentalists in the South Bay to connect these two frustrates her.

“I came here to work on earth-observing satellites. I’ve been concerned about climate change, and pollution for my entire time in the South Bay. and have just been seeing it get worse and worse: everyone paying lip service, and then just doing business as usual, making us more car-dependent than ever,” she said.

Dennis Richards, a developer and former planning commissioner for the City of San Francisco, met Brand in Sacramento five years ago. They strategized together as wave after wave of housing bills aimed at weakening local control appeared. Like Brand, his initial idea was to defeat one bill at a time, but it became a “game of Whack-a-Mole,” and then SB 9 appeared and they realized it was time for the most drastic countermeasure. 

Richards lives a few blocks away from Wiener, whom he has known for nearly 20 years and who endorsed Richards in his bid for the planning commission. 

“I hold no bad feelings towards the Senator at all. I just think we have different approaches,” Richards said. “And I don’t think for some communities, what he’s saying is wrong. I get it. This stuff isn’t perfect. Our initiative isn’t perfect. But I think it’s down to what the neighborhood voter is feeling. Sacramento is getting ahead of itself on this. They’re misreading what people are feeling, and not getting a say in how their neighborhood changes…All of a sudden, where there were two people living next door to you, now there are 12. And there are 10 cars, and taxis, the sewer system is being stretched, and the roads, because there are more people, and the schools are more crowded. That, to me, is the unintended consequence of the state’s approach.” ER  

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