Your Land is My Land

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By Richard Colman

When, in 2014, Vladimir Putin militarily grabbed Crimea and the eastern Ukraine for Russia, the seizure was an example of imperialism, the acquisition of inhabited territory by a foreign nation. 

Something similar to imperialism is going on in California.  No military force is involved, but political force is. 

Adolf Hitler seized the Rhineland in 1936, annexed Austria in March 1938, and grabbed, in the fall of 1938, the Sudetenland, a part of Czechoslovakia.  Hitler’s action was called, at least initially, irredentism, the doctrine that people who speak the same language should be part of the same country.  The Rhineland, Austria, and the Sudetenland were German-speaking regions. 

After grabbing the Sudetenland, Hitler went from irredentism to imperialism. 

In 1939, Hitler invaded and conquered Poland.  In 1940, he did the same thing to France, Belgium, and Holland.  These conquered lands were not German-speaking.  

By 1941, Hitler, except for Switzerland, controlled most of continental Europe. 

In California, the state is wresting control of the land of local communities.  Local communities have Regional Housing Needs Allocations (RHNA).  What RHNA does is require local communities to set aside a certain amount of housing for low-income individuals. 

In 1969, according to the website of the California Department of Housing and Community Development, ” . . . California has required that all local government adequately plan to meet the housing needs of everyone in the community.”  Each local government must adopt housing plans as part of the local government’s General Plan.  

The General Plan is something like a local government’s constitution.  The General Plan can cover such matters as building heights, zoning regulations, and housing density (houses per acre). 

In 1969, California’s population was about 19 million.  By 1980, the population had grown to 24 million; by 1990, 30 million; by 2000, 34 million. 

In 2017, the state’s population was 39.5 million.  Contrast that number with the current population of all of Canada:  36.3 million. 

Apparently no one in 1969, estimated that by 2017, the population of California would go from 19 million in 1969 to 39.5 million in 2017 — a virtual doubling in about 48 years. 

For many individuals, the ideal California situation was to live in a single, detached family home — a home with a lawn, a garden, and perhaps a swimming pool. Until recent years, many local communities had decent schools.  Commuting to work by car was a relatively short trip by freeway.  Parking was fairly easy to find. 

Then, about 20 years ago, things started to change.  Schools in many places became overcrowded.  Land in semi-rural, suburban communities became scarce.  Land prices, especially home prices, soared.  Traffic and parking became unbearable.  Freeways were congested for hours on end. 

However, the State of California decided, ultimately, not to accommodate the desires of those homeowners who wanted to continue to live in a home near acceptable local schools and some open space (like parks) close by. 

What the state wanted was to have local communities to build high-rise, high-density housing — often called stack and pack housing.  Moreover, the state wanted a local communities, even if little or no land were available, to construct additional housing.  Local communities have been under pressure from real-estate developers and related interests (like banks, insurance companies, and architects). 

Indignation, which has been building for many years among existing homeowners, simply boiled over in January 2018.  In that month, State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced Senate Bill 827 (SB 827), a requirement that local communities would, within one-quarter mile of a frequently-used bus route or one-half mile of a train station, be compelled to construct more units of so-called affordable housing, regardless of local conditions.  The housing could have apartments up to 85 feet high, regardless of local zoning and housing ordinances.  The co-sponsor of SB 827 is State Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley). 

A large political battle has broken out.  The Sierra Club and the League of California Cities oppose SB 827.  Many local-government officials have written to members of the state legislature, complaining of onerous, new construction projects.  Some people have called SB 827, the mandatory “Manhattanization” of California. 

Some opponents of SB 827 claim that high-rise units would require the acquisition of special fire trucks that would have equipment to reach tall buildings.  The cost of a new fire truck could be $1 million. 

Other opponents have called SB 827 a give-away to real estate developers.

Tenants of rental housing claim that SB 827 would lead to the demolition of their residences — residences that could be replaced by luxury dwellings. 

One group vigorously dislikes SB 827.  According to the Sacramento Bee (March 28, 2018), a group called Tenants Together, a statewide tenants’ rights organization claims to be “offended” by SB 827.  The Bee quoted Sen. Wiener, who said, “I could care less how much money developers make.”  Wiener added, “My concern is having enough housing for people.” 

Some analysts have compared SB 827 to Proposition 13 of 1978.  Proposition 13 was a virtual political earthquake.  California voters on June 6, 1978, voted overwhelmingly to put strong restrictions on the growth of local property taxes.  The proposition rolled property taxes back to 1975 levels.  Any future property tax increases had to go to the voters, and a two-thirds majority of voters was required for any plan to raise property taxes.  Prior to Proposition 13, local officials could, without voter approval, raise property taxes. 

According to critics of SB 827, the demands of SB 827, if enacted into law, will cause a political earthquake similar to the one that Proposition 13 caused.


Richard Colman is the founder and president of Biomed Inc., a biotechnology, publishing, and informatics company.  He is a biochemist and earned masters and doctoral degrees from the University of California at Berkeley.  He lives in Orinda, California.


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