Senate Bill 35 makes communities vulnerable


Senate Bill 35 removes authority over Santa Cruz development from the city government and the California Environmental Quality Act, giving it instead to private developers.

The apartments on offer at 831 Water Street appear to be a test case, initially refused by Santa Cruz City County in a 6-1 vote on October 12, for failing to meet local requirements for affordable units to be incorporated into the structure instead of being separated. , that a special authorization is required to build within 20 feet of a 30% slope; as well as plans for storm water management, traffic and noise studies. (Local de Santa Cruz, November 23).

Modern image of the five-story building at 831 Water Street. It is proposed for the Hilltop Shopping Center site on historic Bolcoff Hill. (Contribution – Novin Development via City of Santa Cruz website file)

The institutional look of the building has been described as a prison, but seems immune to local beauty standards. The 831 Responsible Development Citizen Group supports new housing in Santa Cruz, but does not view the development project at 831 Water Street as being responsible or respectful to those who want it to reflect local character.

The project will be reviewed again at 4 p.m. on December 14, “… prompted by a recent threat of YIMBYLaw lawsuit …” (Ibid.) Development advocates who call themselves YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard) were noticed at the town and Sentinel opinion page meetings, showing their compassion for those in need of housing. Yet their message is more complex than that.

YIMBY roots

Seven years ago, despite massive amounts of new housing being produced for the booming tech economy in the San Francisco Bay Area, insatiable demand was driving residents out of their homes and neighborhoods. He drove commuters out of the Bay Area for affordable housing to places like Santa Cruz. The Bay Area Renters Federation was formed in 2014, to stop the displacement of former worker communities. They first called for moratoriums on evictions, a tax on speculators and the enforcement of short-term vacation rentals, etc. Yet they did not blame the developers who priced them, but the lack of unlimited housing.

Soon it was labeled a housing crisis, blamed on popular community policies of slow growth, historic preservation, design guidelines for new construction, height limits, green belts, and farmland preservation. Heritage, aesthetics, and an agricultural economy were apparently seen as an unfair burden on developers. The enemy was the residents who loved the community they had, not its proposed highways and the renovation of skyscrapers. Residents who supported protections and regulations are called NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard), characterized as opposed to progress or change of any kind, selfish “for getting theirs and closing the door behind them.” , and maybe even racist for having limited accommodation. To contrast with their enemy, the YIMBY movement was launched in 2014.

The YIMBYs are desperate for more housing, which has attracted libertarians keen to deregulate development and liberals who see unregulated development as social justice. The movement borrows Ronald Reagan’s “supply side” theories that increasing the supply of market-priced and luxury housing eventually leads to affordable housing spillovers, in a method called ” filtering ”. Filtering is the theory that higher income people will move into new homes at market price, leaving their “old” homes to lower income people. They also advocate the “upzoning” of single-family neighborhoods for greater density, and Bryan Caplan, writing for the conservative Cato Institute, sets New York City a good example of successful unregulated development.

Still, Santa Cruz’s policies are not to blame for a state and countrywide problem. The “filtering” theory is based on the idea that if the “new” is expensive, then the “old” must be cheap. Still, if anyone can afford market housing, I suspect their “old” home is in good shape and quite competitive in a high demand community like Santa Cruz. And the “upzonage” appears to be ringing a bell for speculators, causing the dislocation of residents, as home values ​​soar for those now enticed to demolish neighborhoods in anticipation of greater profits.

Home ownership

Americans before the Great Depression saw housing as a privilege, something to be gained. But during the New Deal, Franklin D. Roosevelt embraced the idea that all citizens have the right to safe, decent and stable housing. (Time, April 24, 2020). Government programs were born to stimulate the home ownership of the American middle class. The Federal Housing Authority (FHA) was established by Congress in 1934 to issue government-guaranteed mortgages, and in 1938, the national mortgage associations called Fannie Mae became the soul provider of mortgage-backed mortgages. ‘Veterans Administration. After World War II, the GI Bill authorized affordable VA mortgages to returning servicemen, spurring a post-war economic boom. Fannie Mae has expanded to also provide conventional loans, reducing costs for Americans. (McArthur & Edelman, American Progress, April 13, 2017)

Homeownership has become the biggest source of wealth for citizens, tapping into home equity to invest in things like education, small businesses, and emergencies. Discriminatory and discriminatory loans denied these benefits to people of color, leading to civil rights legislation, such as the establishment of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in 1965; the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968 and the Community Reinvestment Act in 1977, as well as reforms to the lending practices of the FHA.

The real estate bubble

During the administration of George W. Bush in the early 2000s, a push for the deregulation of financial institutions led to a decline in government guaranteed mortgages, in favor of the dramatic expansion of the “private securitization market. “, A large part of which were” subprime “. loans with predatory characteristics. (Mian & Sufi, Quarterly Journal of Economics 124, 2009).

Like Texas energy rates, these home loans seemed to have lower interest rates, until economic conditions changed, making their suddenly adjusted rates unaffordable and costing many homes. These risky “no-safety net” loans sold an illusion, just as Wall Street bundled risky loans into complex, complex mortgage products, spreading danger across unregulated markets, with profits hidden in algorithms that even experts could not understand. When the housing bubble burst in 2008, the housing market collapsed and interest rates rose. Part of the speculator-fueled housing estates became ghost towns, as some landlords were turned into squatters, struggling to hold onto some of their dreams. The housing crisis brought people back to government insured FHA mortgages, peaking at 25% in 2011. So it was deregulation that sank the housing market in 2008, not a reason to deregulate development. immovable.

While I don’t doubt the sincerity of people calling themselves YIMBY, I have had a different experience with the term “NIMBY”. It was a term used by developers to deprive real stakeholders of the right to vote with something to lose, making their selfish legitimate concerns appear not to sacrifice themselves for the “greater good”, that is. -to say to endure the “bad inferior”. I was first called NIMBY in the 1970s for a newspaper article I wrote against a nuclear power plant on the coast. The name was used against opponents of a proposed freeway on West Cliff Drive in 1971, skyscrapers on Lighthouse Field in 1972, and a San Jose dormitory community on Wilder Ranch in 1973.

In 1978, the “NIMBYs” were accused of founding Save Our Shores to prevent offshore oil drilling in Monterey Bay, which led to the protection of the area in 1988 with the Bay National Marine Sanctuary. of Monterey. All of these things were meant to be an affront to our economic prosperity, but the quality of life in the small towns we sought to protect is still the kind of Santa Cruz lifestyle people hope to preserve.

Having standards for our community is not the meanness that Sacramento assumes, when they deny us the right to vote through SB 35, leaving us vulnerable to a YIMBY lawsuit. The people of Santa Cruz are not against progress or development, and if architects and developers took the time to understand our community, they wouldn’t face the backlash of every shocking proposition.

Instead, we get one proposal after another designed for San Jose freeway culture, and then we get exposed for saying it has no local character.

Ross Eric Gibson is a former history columnist for the San Jose Mercury News.


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