Must-Read: Enrico Moretti: Fires Aren’t the Only Threat to the California Dream: “The fires that ravaged Northern California in October claimed lives, weakened communities and scarred one of the West’s most distinctive landscapes…
…The destruction of an estimated 14,000 homes in the wine country north of San Francisco will worsen a severe housing shortage in a region where rents and housing values are already sky-high. The shortage harms rural communities on the fringes of the Bay Area, but it is rooted in urban communities in the region’s core…. It is exacerbated by well-meaning but misguided housing policies championed by urban liberals. The area has some of the most progressive voters and policymakers in the nation, yet it has also adopted some of the most regressive housing policies, with large costs for low-income renters and the environment….
The problem is largely self-inflicted: the region has some of the country’s slowest, most political and cumbersome housing approval processes and most stringent land-use restrictions. Thanks to aggressive lobbying by an odd coalition of Nimby homeowners and progressives—radical county supervisors, tenants’ unions, environmental groups—in places like San Francisco and Oakland, it takes years (and sometimes even decades), harsh political battles and arduous appeals to get a market-rate housing project approved….
Just like fires, bad housing policies can carry horrendous social and environmental costs. As the smoke from the Northern California fires clears, our urban communities should follow the examples of other progressive cities, and embrace smart growth. For this to happen, local urban progressives must moderate their reflexive opposition to all new market-based housing. The main winners will be the region’s most vulnerable: urban renters as well as the land and inhabitants of areas incinerated by the recent infernos.