Letters to the Editor: Developers complain about regulation. That ‘red tape’ protects Californians

Founder and CEO of United Standard Housing Drew Orenstein walks past his new housing project in Leimert Part in 2020.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

To the editor: Edward Glaeser and Atta Tarki advocate a return to 1950s policies on housing development that will not work in 21st century California. Yes, we must confront high housing costs, but in doing so we need to hang on to the gains we actually made. (“California housing development remains abysmal despite reforms. Here’s what’s missing,” Opinion, Feb. 19)

The laws that have emerged — “red tape” for their opponents — protect environmental health, safety and welfare. Building standards save lives and property (nobody back then knew about climate change). We try to preserve open space for recreation, food production and ground water replenishment.

Glaeser and Tarki think if you allow developers to build with fewer restrictions, they will pass the savings along to buyers and renters. But there is no guarantee of that. And in some places where policies greatly reduced restrictions — Vancouver, Canada, is an apt case for comparison — housing prices escalated.


If we really want to learn from the past, we need to emulate the post-World War II policies that provided cheap housing loans, veterans’ benefits, tax incentives and transportation (and not on freeways this time). We have in many places a crisis in housing access. We need better policies than last century, and without the environmental wreckage.

Jana Zimmer and Harvey Molotch, Santa Barbara

Zimmer is a retired land-use lawyer who has written a book on the California Coastal act; Molotch is a professor emeritus of sociology at UC Santa Barbara specializing in urban environments.


To the editor: The piece by Glaeser and Tarki was the most intelligent piece of writing I have read in your publication in a very long time. This is what happens when educated individuals with expertise write something, as opposed to pontificators without any substantive education or experience in a subject matter.

If politicians are serious about adding housing in California, they need to enable large-scale, for-profit development by private companies. It is not going to happen any other way.


Marc Tavakoli, Los Angeles


To the editor: Glaeser and Tarki find themselves comfortably among the critics of our dysfunctional housing system. Sometimes the target is the zoning, or regulators, or people, or unions, or banks. Or maybe it’s everyone together in a tangled mess.

It’s been this way for at least the past 70 years. I don’t think Glaeser and Tarki truly appreciate the “boots on the ground” complexity that’s behind housing.

And it isn’t just building the housing. It’s how it will be used at least for the next 100 years.

The only way to obtain “enough housing” is to get our own Napoleon III and his great planner, Baron Hausmann. They ripped through a medieval city to create the Paris we all love today.


That seems unlikely. So we must just carry on making reforms, striking compromises and increasing housing until a real solution appears. Most likely it will come from somewhere we can’t conceive of today.

James Davis, Agoura Hills