The Density Debate: Why Sacramento Lawmakers Need to Listen to Homeowners!

TO MEMBERS OF THE CALIFORNIA LEGISLATURE-It is time for you to come down from your ivory tower in Sacramento and speak directly to the people. Senator Scott Wiener has signaled his intent to bring back Senate Bill 827 – a recently defeated and misbegotten attempt to up-zone vast portions of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other municipalities.

Other legislators, even those that voted it down, have also said that they want to continue the conversation to “densify” neighborhoods throughout the state. That prompts the question, where will that conversation take place and who will be involved?  

The accusatory tone of the SB 827 advocates was much too ugly to be called a genuine conversation, so do you think it would be possible for you to hold a statewide conversation on housing and zoning where everyone gets a chance to weigh in? Given that this is all about the future of California, town halls would be the best forum. Each legislator should schedule at least one town hall in their districts and enforce a “facts only”type conversation. We cannot continue to have great numbers of residents labeled racist or greedy just because they own single-family homes or live in rent-stabilized apartments.   

Will you start the conversation by acknowledging that homeowners today are not responsible for the National Housing Act of 1934 credited for creating redlining and institutionalizing racist zoning? None of us alive today is responsible for that terrible act and all repudiate it as a despicable practice. So, let’s have a conversation about today – not what happened almost 100 years ago.  

As homeowners we made a choice and played by the rules. We worked hard, saved our money and sacrificed in order to buy a house. We saddled ourselves with huge debt, went through all the ups and downs of markets, the fears that come with that debt and being responsible for everything that happens in that place we call home. We understood why others did not make that choice because there was nothing easy about it. We are not the investor class as some want to paint us. Our house is a home, not a portfolio.  

We also played by the rules that you and your predecessors laid out for us to follow. You told cities to draw up general plans with certain elements to them and they did. You said one of those elements had to be a land use element and cities complied. You have updated the rules on general plans a number of times and cities have had to comply. All along the way the people have also been involved. We agreed and disagreed and eventually adapted our way of life to fit the plan you laid out. Now you want to change everything and rip up the plans we have worked on for so many years. If you intend to do that you have to climb down from your high perches in Sacramento and meet the people on their own turf. You need to explain to the people who have worked and sweated all their lives why you think their way of life is unfair and needs to end. Anything short of that is unacceptable.  

We agree that we need to discuss how to get more housing in California – especially affordable housing. If we are ever to have a sufficient amount of affordable housing, you will need to repeal the Ellis Act and support the removal of Costa-Hawkins. The so-called “trickle down” benefit of luxury rate apartments eventually becoming affordable units will not happen in our lifetimes – if ever. Multi-family buildings that are 80-plus years old don’t become outdated or “affordable” in the right location – they develop much desired “character” and their rents remain high. It is after all: location, location, location.  

We also need to discuss California’s crumbling infrastructure and if more housing helps or hurts that situation – and why you think you know more about our neighborhoods than we do or, for that matter, our locally elected city officials? We have been on the ground for years advocating for more trees, more open space, more businesses that support the neighborhood, safer streets, and the overall quality of life. We must have missed you at those meetings (if you were there), but of course you weren’t.   

Please advertise these town halls extensively to make sure a sufficient cross section of the public can participate. Please make sure the videos are available to be uploaded to YouTube and other digital platforms so that the people have a chance to participate. You might be surprised; this could be the very thing that raises the percentage of people voting in local and state elections.   

You need to do this because most homeowners and renters are unaware that this battle about density is raging across the state and beginning to have a national presence. They have no idea that they are being called selfish and racist for wanting a front and back yard. Likewise, renters who are lucky enough to live in a rent-stabilized unit are unaware that they are being called selfish because they occupy older apartments that could be demolished to make way for new, granite countertop luxury units in complexes that the vast majority of tenants cannot afford. You need to stand before allthe people and explain why you want our way of life to end.   

We get that California is changing. We have outgrown all the population estimates laid out by cities at their inception. And the legislature is about ready to put our cities and towns on a tighter water budget that probably will not get the job done because conservation only works for so long. Then it will become necessary to find a way to provide a water supply for future generations. What is your plan for that? 

The people of California have a right to know exactly how this plan to densify will impact them, how much their lives will need to change. You need to stand in front of this generation of Californians and explain yourself. You cannot hide from them any longer.   

We look forward to meeting you in our neighborhoods.


(James O’Sullivan is President of the Miracle Mile Residential Association and co-founder of Fix the City … a non-profit, citizen association whose stated goal is its name … to Fix the City. He is an occasional contributor to CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.