Monday, November 27, 2023








        For many years, the various regions making up this vast state bore distinctive looks, featuring everything from tree houses in California’s far northwest corner to Pueblo-style architecture in the deserts of eastern Riverside County.


        Then came San Francisco’s Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener with his ideal of dense housing everywhere, accompanied by state Attorney General Rob Bonta’s conviction that every part of California must do its share of high-rise building if the current housing shortage is to be solved.


        Wiener, a resident of San Francisco’s ultra-dense Castro district, never says this, but makes plain that he would like all of California to look like his neighborhood, filled with decades-old wooden apartment buildings.


His many results include additional dwelling units (ADUs, once known as “granny apartments”) behind or beside a large portion of newly built homes everywhere in the state and eight-story buildings in many neighborhoods formerly zoned for single family homes.


        The new state housing laws provide little or no room for cities to worry about their ambiance or their longtime character, both major traditional concerns for local governments. Never mind what local residents anywhere want.


Resist massive new housing projects and you will be labeled a NIMBY (not in my back yard) and your concerns scorned, valid or not. Never mind, also, that much of the newly-built housing stands vacant because relatively few Californians can pay either the $3,000-plus monthly rents asked in many new buildings or the astronomical condominium prices even where new units are labeled “affordable.”


        One of Wiener’s newest housing bills, SB 423, extends for 10 years an existing law that allows virtually automatic approvals for so-called affordable building projects almost everywhere. There is no requirement to allow new high-rise buildings only if there’s high occupancy of existing housing in the same areas. No provision for developers to finance new schools or parks. Also, there’s no requirement for owners to lower prices when units stand vacant for long periods.


        Now this one-size-fits-all mentality has begun to infect other policy areas.


        Proposed new water use rules, for one example, would require all the state’s more than 400 water-supplying agencies to develop new water-use budgets yearly, starting in 2025. These demands stem from two 2018 laws calling for the state to create new standards, including permanent water consumption goals.


        Making goals annual, and not perpetual, is an attempt to add some flexibility because water supplies vary greatly from place to place and from one year to the next. But there will be usage cuts everywhere starting no later than two years from now, even in places with plentiful water.


        No one has yet said how this can be compatible with building 2.5 million new housing units over the next eight years, as one recent estimate from the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development claims must happen.


        Meanwhile, some new one-size-fits-all measures do make sense. Example: All ballots listing referenda aimed at canceling laws passed by the Legislature or local governments will now carry both more information about sponsors and new language describing the meaning of votes.


        This was spurred by the reality that in some referenda, a yes vote has meant keeping a new law, while in others, yes meant getting rid of recently-passed measures.


        From now on, yes and no on ballots will be replaced by “keep the law” and “overturn the law,” making it more certain voters know what their choices mean.


        Said Democrat Isaac Bryan of Los Angeles, the 31-year-old former Assembly majority leader, “Voters now have better tools to understand the impact of referendums (sic) and ensure their vote reflects their intent. Our democracy is stronger today than it was yesterday.”


        That’s one case where one size really does fit all of California, greatly improving public understanding of ballot measures.


        But such rationality is rare among efforts to enforce identical rules and solutions on every locale. They ignore realities of population movement and the preferences of millions who have invested life savings into neighborhoods they had every reason to believe would remain as stable as they previously were for generations.



    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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