Newsletter: Goodbye to single-family zoning in California?

A key legislative committee approved a bill April 24 that would let property owners throughout the state convert single-family homes into fourplexes.
(Todd Goodman / LA Light Photo)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, April 27, 2019. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

Over the last few days, President Trump has blasted the Russia investigation as a “coup”; a constitutional crisis between subpoena-wielding Democratic lawmakers and the White House has been brewing; and the candidate most likely to defeat the president in 2020 officially started his campaign. And yet, this piece on the potential death of single-family zoning in California has drawn more readers online than any other Opinion article.

Given a little thought, it’s easy to understand why. Much of Los Angeles’ growth and identity in the 20th century was fueled by outward-reaching sprawl consisting of tidy bungalows and low-slung ranch homes (minus the ranch, of course). The article, by Times editorial writer Kerry Kavanaugh, notes the seismic shift it would mark for California if the latest effort by state Sen. Scott Wiener to address the state’s housing crisis passes:

Let’s just pause on the fact that a bipartisan group of lawmakers voted in favor of a bill that would allow apartments pretty much anywhere in California.

Again, this would be a major change from the status quo. Wiener has said that it’s illegal to build more than a single-family house (plus an in-law unit) in roughly 80% of California’s residential neighborhoods.

And yet, maybe the support for this proposal is not so surprising. The political winds have been shifting on single-family restrictions. Last year, the Minneapolis City Council voted to eliminate single-family zoning and instead allow duplexes and triplexes to be built on lots reserved for one house. The city enacted the policy so it would be easier to build affordable, denser communities, but also to help integrate neighborhoods that are still segregated as a result of discriminatory housing practices dating back decades. Strict single-family zoning was often adopted as a way to segregate neighborhoods without explicitly banning any racial or religious group.

Planners in Charlotte, N.C., are looking to eliminate single-family zoning for the same reasons.

On the West Coast, the high-cost cities of Seattle and Portland have considered rezoning single-family lots or allowing up to four-unit buildings in single-family neighborhoods. One Oregon lawmaker proposed allowing fourplexes on single-family lots in any city in the state with more than 10,000 residents.

Even Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti — who was down on Wiener’s proposal last year to open single-family neighborhoods to denser development — is warming to the idea.

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This doesn’t mean Trump didn’t do something outrageous — far, far from it, actually. The Democrats won control of the House in 2018 promising to conduct real oversight of the president. Trump’s response is to declare himself immune to congressional oversight and refuse to respond to House subpoenas because they’ve been issued by, you know, Democrats. “That’s an outrageous and indefensible position,” says the editorial board. L.A. Times

But conservatives love Trump, and the ailing “NeverTrump” movement shows it. Heritage Foundation fellow David Azerrad predicts the wing of the Republican Party that refused to support Trump in 2016 is all but extinct thanks to the administration’s myriad accomplishments that ought to please conservatives. “The economy is growing, unemployment is falling and wages are rising,” he writes. “We have pulled out of the Paris accord, withdrawn from the Iran nuclear deal, and destroyed Islamic State. Trump has arguably done more to advance the conservative agenda than any other of the 16 Republican candidates he ran against would have.” L.A. Times

Paradise needs our help — still. Nearly two seasons removed from the most destructive wildfire in California’s history, the nearby city of Chico’s population is still swollen, burned-out lots in Paradise are still uninhabited, and displaced families are still praised for their resilience. “In six months, when the official one year anniversary of the Camp fire comes and there are — inevitably — a profusion of essays and videos about Paradise and Butte published, we can only hope they won’t be obligatory, or ignorant of the urgent help still needed,” writes Cal State Chico professor Sarah Pape. New York Times

Is a measles quarantine at UCLA enough to quash the anti-vaccine movement? Probably not, writes physician James Hamblin, because the misguided opinions on immunization held by otherwise educated parents has more to do with ideological alignment than ignorance of the facts. In other words, lab-coated doctors reciting CDC facts on the safety of vaccines in YouTube videos can’t do much to fight targeted disinformation campaigns. The Atlantic

Vladimir Putin is acting like he wants war, and that’s a bigger threat than Russian meddling in U.S. elections. He lights up when he talks of his nuclear hardware aimed at the United States. He believes it was his hands-on leadership that led to military success in Crimea. He talks about restoring Russia to its Soviet-era might. Russia scholar Leon Aron warns all this could indicate a disturbing possibility: that since Putin surely wants to rule past his constitution’s 2024 limit, he will try to recast himself as a wartime president who must remain in power to see his country through a military conflict. L.A. Times