Newsletter: You don’t have to be a housing NIMBY to oppose SB 827

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, April 21, 2018. All hail the queen — not because this nation was founded by ex-British subjects, but because today happens to be Queen Elizabeth II’s 92nd birthday. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

Reading some of the commentary on the failure of SB 827, a state bill that would have preempted local zoning laws around transit corridors and certain bus stops to allow for the construction of apartment and condominium complexes, you’d think the fight was solely between curmudgeonly NIMBYs calcified in their ranch-style homes on set-back lots, and forward-looking urbanists who acknowledge the severity of California’s housing crisis.

Take, for example, this piece by Washington Post opinion writer Megan McArdle, who says SB 827’s demise is symptomatic of the problems liberal city dwellers and their political leaders have in addressing California’s housing shortage. SB 827’s opponents, she says, were “entrenched local interests” who could not get on board with the wonks in their own Democratic Party, similar to the intra-GOP fight over free trade.

But is it possible to agree with the essence of arguments like McArdle’s — that those local interests should indeed stop using their zoning rules to squelch badly need housing developments, and laws should be passed to that effect — while opposing SB 827? Of course it is, and The Times Editorial Board — no friend to NIMBYs in the past — opposed the bill while supporting the broader goal of building greater density near transit. The devil, as always, was in the details of SB 827:

Few bills in Sacramento have gotten as much attention or stirred up as much controversy recently as SB 827, Sen. Scott Wiener's bold proposal to override local zoning laws to allow the construction of buildings four to five stories tall near rail stations and frequently served bus stops — even in single-family neighborhoods where dense development is prohibited.

But this week state leaders decided — rightly — that Wiener's hostile takeover of local zoning went too far....

Even some of staunchest opponents of SB 827 professed to support the bill's housing goal. As well they should — California badly needs to build housing, and it makes sense to concentrate those new units near transit so people can more easily get around without driving.

So, it's time for those folks to put their money (or their zoning) where their mouth is. Cities and counties ought to take the initiative and change their land-use laws to promote taller, denser, more walkable and more affordable development around transit stations. For all the city officials who wring their hands over the housing crisis while opposing SB 827, here's your chance to prove Wiener wrong. You don't want to lose local control? Then don't wait for the Legislature to pass the next version of SB 827....

Designing cities to reduce driving is essential because transportation produces half of the state's greenhouse gas emissions, and California will not meet its climate change goals without slashing the number of miles that people drive. But there are few penalties for cities that don't follow through on their sustainable community plan. Lawmakers should look at ways to toughen the law so cities have to follow through on their climate change commitments.

SB 827 may be dead, but the work to build more homes in more walkable, transit-friendly communities must continue. The future of California is at stake.

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Don’t like being first lady? Barbara Bush would not have approved. The late wife of the 41st president and mother of the 43rd was remembered for her honesty and steadiness at the helm of one of America’s greatest political dynasties. But we should also not forget how she relished her role as first lady, as evidenced by the White House staff’s fondness for her and her husband, and her open embrace of children stricken with HIV and AIDS after eight years of near-silence by the Reagan administration, writes Kate Andersen Brower. L.A. Times

Conservatives cannot abide the free speech exercised by a Cal State Fresno instructor. Randa Jarrar said some less-than-flattering things about Barbara Bush on her Twitter account. Now, the creative writing scholar is under investigation by Cal State Fresno, whose president warned, “A professor with tenure does not have blanket protection to say and do what they wish.” So it’s true: Free speech is under assault on college campuses, but the threats don’t come exclusively from the left. New York Times

Coachella concertgoers: Think about the festival’s impoverished Mexican neighbors. The farmworkers pick fruits and vegetables in punishing desert heat. Many live in substandard housing. Nearly 40% of the local population lives in poverty. Passes to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival may cost $429, and $3,600 gets you into a — yes — VIP teepee. But almost none of the wealth generated by the thousands of moneyed hipsters who descend into the Coachella Valley once a year meaningfully improves the lives of the exploited Mexicans populating the area, writes Gustavo Arellano. L.A. Times

L.A. is the new Iowa. Mayor Eric Garcetti seems to think that’s the case, but he’s right for the wrong reasons.The presidential hopeful who visited Iowa recently remarked that his city is in many ways like first-in-the-nation caucus state, and Iowa native-turned-L.A. resident Ann Friedman finds a reason to believe Garcetti: Similar to the college graduates who tend to exit the Hawkeye State to find success on the coasts, resulting in a “brain drain,” people hoping to make it in Los Angeles find they must put down roots outside the city because the housing is so expensive. L.A. Times

It’s California, not “Cali.” David L. Ulin has this to say to those who would abbreviate the name of a big, complicated state because it looks nice on a T-shirt: “What is it about California that we are always trying to reduce it? Why do we fall back on the stereotype that we are not quite serious?” (Plus, a reader reminds us, Cali is the name of Colombia’s third-largest city.) L.A. Times