March 10, 2017; San Diego Union-Tribune
Californians are well known for their liberal-leaning largesse, acting the part of heroic social justice warriors in favor of equal economic, social, and political rights and clean air for everyone. Half-jokes about seceding from the Union circulate in part because California’s staunch progressiveness stands in stark contrast to the more conservative views of much of the polity surrounding the Golden State. But when their personal lifestyles and their gold are on the line, what do Californians actually do to help Mother Nature? Choose pro-environment policies, or maintain the preservation of their very expensive personal space? California’s desperate housing crisis is proving to be the fault line in the public crusade for natural preservation, leading to the highest poverty rate in the nation and to a missed opportunity to put a big dent in pollution, including greenhouse gas emissions, to aid the state’s official drive to reduce this ozone-depleting factor to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.
The City of Angels is a prime example of this clashing conundrum. On average, Los Angeles renters dedicate 49 percent of their income to shelter, paying an average of $2,700 per month for a two-bedroom apartment. As of last June, San Francisco to the north is the most expensive rental market in the country, where the median one-bedroom apartment goes for $3,500 per month. According to a recent Sacramento Bee report based on analysis of U.S. Census data, the poverty-generating housing market swaps out the poor for the wealthy, as 2.5 million lower- and middle-income residents sought refuge in other states between 2005 and 2015 while new residents with more income moved in and put even further pressure on housing costs.
The state has tried to promote efforts to grow housing stock, but they have been largely muted by public opposition and pressure put on local government, which would be the prime movers for this cause. Such humanitarian efforts directly impact and demand personal sacrifice from the privileged and powerful, who are shielded from the brunt of this crisis and are uninspired to accept more housing development, and their representatives thus have no political capital to lead the charge. The shame is that it is logistically easy to mitigate the housing and environmental crises in one swoop: Build more housing for all economic classes and concentrate it in proximity to dense zones of employment and commerce, reducing travel and depletion of natural resources.
Mac Taylor of the California legislature’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office frames the problem as convincing more people that increased housing is in this way in their best interest. “Unless Californians are convinced of the benefits of significantly more home building—targeted at meeting housing demand at every income level—no state intervention is likely to make significant progress on addressing the state’s housing challenges,” Taylor wrote in his office’s new report, “Do Communities Adequately Plan for Housing?”
Connecting the dots for people who claim allegiance to environmental causes may help open up their hearts and consciences to providing more housing for the less privileged. Otherwise, the center will not hold for California, as the people endure continued degradation of the environment and their economy falters due to the continued exodus of the labor and youth that historically drove their engine of wealth.—Louis Altman