Evidence keeps mounting that California’s longtime housing shortage can be solved by market forces set loose by the lifestyle and workplace changes created by the coronavirus pandemic.
Now the failure of the worst parts of a sweeping housing package in the state Legislature leaves the path clear for those market forces to work themselves out. Had the most wide-ranging of the bills passed, there could have been far less motivation for developers and local governments to heed the accelerating non-political forces.
Potential housing effects of the viral crisis became noticeable almost immediately after shelter-at-home orders first came from county governments in the Bay Area, quickly followed by similar statewide decrees by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
White-collar workers for companies large and small were suddenly ordered to work from home, as companies from internet giants like Twitter and Facebook to law firms, insurance companies, stock brokerages and many more provided technology for workers to work wherever they like.
Voters have short attention spans, but the ongoing virus crisis will be on their minds as they vote this fall, columnist Tom Elias says.
Soon, television broadcasters were shown in living rooms and backyards viewers had never before seen.
Vacancy signs proliferated in the densest of business districts from San Francisco to Santa Monica to Fresno, San Diego, Orange County and beyond. Said a stock brokerage vice president in Pasadena, “We spent $2 million over the last two years refurbishing our offices to accommodate more than 100 workers. Now we get five people a day working there. We don’t need all that space. Our people are as productive as ever; they’re just not in the office very often.”
Realtors report record levels of vacancies, but a building boom propelled by previous state demands for more and more mixed-use office and commercial buildings has continued.
Are power companies playing games with rolling blackouts again? Evidence suggests they are, columnist Tom Elias says.
As empty space appeared within existing buildings, spurred strictly by non-political events, state lawmakers kept pushing the most ambitious housing construction plan the Legislature ever saw.
Pushed by Democrats like San Francisco state Sen. Scott Wiener, Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins of San Diego and Santa Monica Assemblyman Richard Bloom, this package included Senate Bill 902, allowing up to 10 units on any lot zoned for a single home; two other bills allowing developers to build more high-end units on one site if they constructed enough affordable ones on others; a fourth letting city councils overturn without a new popular vote all height-limit laws passed by local voters – and much more.
But the 10-unit bill died in a committee, along with the prospect of developers trolling established low-rise neighborhoods with fat bankrolls to tempt homeowners sitting on large amounts of equity. So did several other major proposals in the package.
No member of the Manson "Family" should ever see the light of day again, says columnist Tom Elias, who covered the group's bloody crimes as a reporter in 1969.
If the lawmakers behind these measures paid any heed to what’s going on in their own districts, they might not have proposed these things, despite the strong support they predictably got from developers and building trade unions.
Twitter’s building in Wiener’s district now stands mostly empty. Office towers in Atkins’ San Diego district are nowhere near filled and “for lease” signs abound in downtown Santa Monica, barely a mile from Bloom’s home.
These empty spaces and many more like them will likely produce more than 1 billion vacant square feet that can be turned into apartments and condominiums in all price ranges with far less work, in far less time and with far fewer lawsuits to fight them than pushing for new construction. Building trades workers will be kept busy doing the electric, plumbing, elevator, carpentry and drywall work needed to convert commercial space into residences. Established neighborhoods will remain intact.
If Biden wins in November, the pressure will be on Newsom to name a replacement senator from Southern California, columnist Tom Elias says.
Yes, it will take some rezoning to accomplish this. But those changes are inevitable: cities and counties would otherwise stand to lose large amounts of property tax money as massive vacancies reduce the value of commercial buildings.
If legislators are really interested in solving the housing problem, and not merely in self-aggrandizement or feathering the nests of their campaign donors, they will leave well enough alone, allowing the market forces to play out over the next two to three years. That way, California will see the millions of new housing units it needs far more quickly than it could have under any of the failed new laws.
Columnist Elias wins again for commentary
For the 12th time in the last 14 years, California Focus columnist Thomas Elias has won first prize for commentary in the annual competition of the Los Angeles Press Club.
Winners for the year 2019 were announced late Saturday via a webcast, rather than at the club’s usual June awards dinner, canceled due to the coronavirus.
To some affected customers, who saw winds during the October closure episode reach speeds no higher than 7 mph (during big fires, winds usually are many times higher), this looked more like revenge than fire prevention.
Elias won for his Jan. 7, 2019 column titled “Solid standards needed for pre-fire power cutoffs.” This was one of a series of columns Elias has written over the last several years on utility problems and malfeasance.
Said the judges, all members of other press clubs around the nation, “Elias provides excellent commentary, bringing important details to the readers.”
The Elias column appears regularly in 92 newspapers in all parts of California.
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Thomas D. Elias writes the syndicated California Focus column. He is author of the book, “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It.”
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