Push by Environmentalists to Build Housing Near Transit Centers Meets Stiff Resistance

affordable housingOver the past dozen years, the California environmental lobby has never seemed more powerful in the Legislature and in state government. Under Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown, the Golden State has passed bold laws and emerged as the global leader in government efforts to combat climate change – with Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom certain to continue this tradition.

But a bracing report from the California Air Resources Board shows that environmentalists’ clout can’t shake the complete control that NIMBYs have over local planning in most of the state – to the detriment of the environment. It found that a 2008 state law – Senate Bill 375 – had been an abject failure. The law requires the state’s 18 regional intergovernmental agencies to push to put new housing near transit stations and to add new transportation options so as to decrease pollution from vehicle commuting.

Not only are three out of four workers still commuting alone to work, carpooling and transit ridership are down. As a result, vehicle greenhouse gas emissions have actually risen in recent years – and the decline from 2007-2011 seems likely to have been a function of the Great Recession, not the state push to reduce emissions associated with climate change.

The air board sees no chance that the SB375 goal of reducing statewide vehicle emissions 10 percent by 2020 will be met.

The report was met with dismay by environmental groups and journalists concerned with progress against climate change. The most common response to the air board’s finding was the call for the Legislature to take more steps to limit the ability of local governments to block projects that met certain criteria – starting with being near transit stations.

69% of Californians want local control of housing

But the appetite of state lawmakers to take on NIMBYs may be limited in the wake of new evidence that NIMBYism isn’t just espoused by activists who see every new housing project as detrimental to quality of life. Instead, it’s a core belief of state residents. A USC Dornsrife/Los Angeles Times survey released in October showed 69 percent of Californianspreferred local control of housing decision-making.

And the fate of a bill to reduce local control over housing showed that even poor people – those who in theory would be most helped by adding housing stock, which likely would push down sky-high rents – are skeptical.

Senate Bill 827, by Sen. Scott Weiner, D-San Francisco, would have made it much easier to build four- or five-story apartment buildings within a half-mile of transit centers. The prospect of apartment buildings springing up in poor neighborhoods with single-family homes – such as in the Los Angeles County cities of Inglewood and Carson – led to an outraged reaction from 36 housing and transit “justice groups” led by the Alliance for Community Transit – Los Angeles (ACT-LA). Instead of seeing the bill as leading to cheaper housing, these groups saw it as likely to lead to home renters being ousted in favor of more lucrative apartment buildings, and to new waves of gentrification.

The opposition to Weiner’s bill from activists and from local governments – including every member of the Los Angeles City Council – was so intense that SB827 died at its first committee hearing in April.

Weiner has since met with ACT-LA leaders and other activists and plans to reintroduce SB827 next year with provisions that address concerns that poor neighborhoods would be upended by much laxer housing rules. But such provisions could end up leading to trading old rules giving local governments power to limit construction for new rules with similar effects.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com


  1. Nice to see the long view on this poor policy idea. We reposted at presscalifornia.com for more to see.

  2. Every form of High Density Stack n Pack will swiftly become a “Housing Project”. Americans KNOW this both instinctively, AND they know it because of history, observation and/or personal experience! WE DON’T WANT IT! And, we don’t want State and Federal (Oh, AND International Agenda 21) OVERLORDS dictating what our communities will be like! These freaking “Visionaries” NEVER live in these “Smart Housing” Stack n Packers themselves, after all, DO THEY???

  3. High occupancy housing has worked so well in America’s metropolitan areas, it is no wonder California ruling class bureaucrats are pushing it.
    Ghetto high rises are better than homeless camps?
    Get people back to work so they can afford to rent or buy. The market will provide housing, if the state government will only get out of the way.

  4. All of this needs to be taken with a grain of salt because the entire state of CA – every man, woman, child, vehicle, cow, factory and power plant -emits only 1% of the world’s greenhouse gases. 1%!! So no CA law, regulation or liberal wet-dream will have any effect on the world’s climate.

  5. You got that right Robert. We can thank Stupid Jerry for his Don Quixote joust at the climate windmill. He’s retiring next year and has left us with the pathetic result. I say that he has to turn his 2400+ acre retirement ranch in NorCal into the State Homeless Center!

  6. Robert S. Allen says

    Abominable AB 2923 gave BART similar land use powers near BART stations. Together with AB 758, it killed extending BART’s blue line to ACE’s commute trains from the Central Valley to San Jose.

    New and extended transit will not get needed voter support if it is conditioned on their communities losing local control over land use.

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