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The one element missing from the discussion of housing: Tolerance
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The one element missing from the discussion of housing: Tolerance

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Housing

In California we pride ourselves on being very tolerant of a diverse array of lifestyles and lifestyle choices. Dress how it suits you; love whom you love; define yourself in accordance with your own preferences. Do your own thing. Sing your own song. Dance your own dance. The Californian thing is to live and let live.  

Except, evidently, when it comes to housing-lifestyle choices. If living in a home with a garden is your thing, you probably shouldn’t expect Californian tolerance from a certain group of people who with cult-like zeal will tell you that your lifestyle is bad, wrong, immoral and even “racist.”

In many ways, the discussion of housing in California has devolved into a thinly veiled propaganda war on single-family neighborhoods.  The elimination of single-family neighborhoods through upzoning seems to be the ultimate goal of YIMBY’s and Sacramento politicians who self-servingly scapegoat local communities and who want to impose one-size-fits-all regulations on cities and communities throughout the state.

Most Americans of all stripes live in single-family neighborhoods or aspire to live in them, and yet there are many who are attempting to delegitimize this housing-lifestyle choice. Never mind that for many, living in a single-family neighborhood still represents the American dream.

Let’s get this straight: there is nothing wrong with living in a home with a garden in a neighborhood of homes with gardens, just as there is nothing wrong with living in Manhattan-style density — or any variation in between. These are all lifestyle choices which in most cases are very personal.

So why all of this rhetoric, with loaded phrases like “exclusionary zoning” and these toxic attempts to paint single-family neighborhoods as immoral, racist and evil? 

It’s ultimately all ‘bout the money — corporations over community — with the anti-single family neighborhood narrative serving to “justify” measures which would eliminate these neighborhoods in favor of “products” which lend themselves well to speculative investments from Wall Street, private equity and global capital.

Turning us from a nation of homeowners into a nation of renters is also a great way for Wall Street to generate recurring revenue, the “gift that keeps on giving.”

In line with the agenda of the Urban Growth Machine, forced density proponents are looking at housing as an investment vehicle rather than as a place to live or as a home. If we examine their rhetoric and “arguments,” we can see that most YIMBY’s are in reality WIMBY’s.

The quasi-religious fervor and fundamental intolerance with which forced density advocates preach their anti-housing pluralism agenda is sometimes startling.  Whether those railing against single-family neighborhoods with the zeal of cult members had unhappy childhoods in suburbia, or whether the motives are purely financial, the intolerant rhetoric against homes with gardens has been ratcheted up to the level where we can read that becoming a homeowner in a single-family neighborhood actually makes you a bad person.

In a country that embraces the principles of pluralism, urban areas should offer a wide variety of living accommodations and lifestyle choices for families and people from all walks of life. And that includes single-family neighborhoods.

We should be tolerant of those choices.

We often hear talk about “California exceptionalism.”  In this case, it’s a matter of exceptional hubris.

For all the talk of “sacrificing single-family neighborhoods” in what ultimately amounts to the further commodification of housing in the name of increasing developer profits, our state is currently leading the nation in arrogance, one-sidedness, extremism and, yes, intolerance in our discussions on housing.

It’s time for that to change. It’s time for Californians to be as tolerant of each other’s housing-lifestyle choices as they are about any other lifestyle choices.  Dance your own dance. Sing your own song. Live, laugh and love where and how it makes you happy. And do your own thing — even if planting your own garden in your own backyard is your own thing.

A Napa house that was once described as uninhabitable has undergone a complete makeover and is about to be "flipped" to a new owner. Take a look at the outside and the neighborhood.

John Mirisch has been a member of the Beverly Hills City Council since 2009, having served three terms as mayor. He is currently a garden-variety council member. He wrote this for CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters.

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