Pardon the length of this blog, but as it will be my only entry for the day, I feel the need to go on a bit more than usual.
Tiring, as all sensible people do, with the cold weather in the east, I packed up the family for our summer home on the California coast for new year’s week, where it is often sunny, except in El Nino years, such as this one, which explains the 80 mile per hour winds that tore off a section of my roof last week. I’m hoping for enough sunshine on New Year’s Day to do the annual polar bear swim in the ocean at noon at the Cayucos pier.
But this morning’s local news brings some sunshine into my life: a California State Appeals Court, in a 3-0 decision, has ruled that the California Coastal Commission violates the constitutional principle of the separation of powers, and is thereby illegal. The Coastal Commission, for you non-Californians, is one of those modern administrative agencies that combine bureaucratic ideology of near-Stalinist zeal with petty corruption of the worst kind. (One former commission member went to prison for using his position for bribery and extortion; other obvious insider corruption goes un-prosecuted.) The Coastal Commission was created by ballot initiative in 1972 as a temporary agency to come up with a long-term plan to protect California’s coastline, but somehow became a permanent regulatory agency.
The Coastal Commission is merely the tip of the bureaucratic iceberg that has been sinking development in California for more than a generation. The little coastal town of Cambria I call my second home provides ample example of how this game works. Way back in 1984, a local bank proposed to build 100,000 square feet of commercial development on land it owns in town, including a hotel, shops, restaurants, and badly needed parking. Eighteen years later, after five environmental impact reports, the bank is finally going to be allowed to build—7,000 square feet.
Cambria is aggressively anti-growth, which is great for my own property value, but bad for the public interest. It is of course illegal to be openly anti-growth, so the local water authorities slow down the pace of development through the simple expedient of not adding any new water capacity for the town, and then say to building applicants: “Sorry—we don’t have enough water; you’ll have to wait.” And wait. And wait. Finally the area has become so short of water that a building moratorium has been enacted.
But then along came Habitat for Humanity, which wants to build one (1) affordable cost house here in town. It would be the height of embarrassment for the local water lords to say No to Habitat (Jimmy Carter would think ill of the town), so the water lords “discovered” a loophole in the moratorium to allow the Habitat project go ahead right away. Meanwhile, low-income Hispanic families, who provide the bulk of the labor for the retirees and tourist trade in town, are crowding two or three families into a single house or small apartment.
Just up the coast from here, the Hearst family still owns 128 square miles (square miles!—not acres) of land along the coast, and has long wanted to do some modest development. But they have always been stymied by the regulators. The latest Hearst proposal was to build a hotel and about 400 homes on the land (the homesites were approved decades ago in state land planning law), which would have a net population density of something like the Gobi Desert. All the local self-appointed activist “conservation” groups got into the act and said No, threatened endless lawsuits, and forced the Hearsts to back down. A “compromise” has just been reached: the Hearst may build a total of 27 homes on their 128 square miles, none of them near the beach or in sight of Highway 1, and they have to provide public access to 18 miles of previously inaccessible coastline. While several conservation groups now support the proposal, the Sierra Club has not yet “signed off” on the plan, and the “Friends of the Ranchland” remained “concerned” about exactly where the 27 homes are going to be sited, and “whether or not the Hearsts will set aside certain beach areas for themselves.” Imagine: setting aside beach areas for yourself on your own land!
And people still scratch their heads about why there is no affordable housing in California.