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9th Street Lofts – 456 W 9th St – 90 low and very low income with on site services in San Pedro  on Thursday, January 19, 2023. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)
9th Street Lofts – 456 W 9th St – 90 low and very low income with on site services in San Pedro on Thursday, January 19, 2023. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)
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The idea that local control for California cities is a good thing for their citizenry is an easy argument to make — in the abstract.

In a massively expansive way, such a belief goes to the heart of our nation’s theory of governance. Under federalism, it is not, no, the federal government that does all of the governing, but rather the 50 states, each a little bit different than the others, with different needs and different attitudes toward regulations.

So why not, within states, take that down to the city level as well? Los Angeles is very different from San Francisco, which is very different from Carmel-by-the-Sea.

And we do take it down there, with city councils in our incorporated cities big and small able to pass their own local laws and regulations.

The reach may be lesser,  but local tyranny isn’t fundamentally better than state tyranny. Local governments using their power to ban or restrict personal or economic freedom are, at the end of the day, infringing on personal and economic freedom.

There’s also a point at which over-regulation within one city or some cities in California creates a burden on the rest of us. While that point is impossible to define in a general sense — though courts are usually happy to try — many involved Californians who believe in the greater good know it when they see it when it comes to particular city laws.

Regulations on development within one municipality is one area that clearly affects the rest of us. If, like some tony suburban cities in our state do, local politicians mandate a minimum lot size of one acre for single-family residences, well, that creates more of a squeeze for limited land elsewhere.

Real estate — they’re not making any more of it, as the old saw goes.

Or the leaders of leafy Woodside in the Bay Area tried to get around state mandates to build at least some denser, somewhat affordable multi-family housing by saying that they had to stick to their old zoning because they are home to endangered mountain lions.

Well, guess what, Woodside — Irvine and Pasadena and L.A.’s Hollywood Hills are mountain lion habitats, too. While we ought to provide more wildlife corridors to enable them to get around, we’re all in this together.

And one clear way to get past California’s daunting housing affordability crisis now that seemingly the entire human population wants to live in our state is to build more, not less, housing.

That’s one big reason we were pleased to see that a particularly NIMBYish constitutional amendment initiative that backers had hoped to put before state voters failed to get enough signatures to go onto the ballot.

The measure that proponents hoped would limit “State’s ability to set statewide land-use and housing policy” will not be something we will have to debate and vote on. If passed, it would have provided   “that local laws automatically override conflicting state land-use and zoning laws (including affordable housing laws) … Prohibits state from changing, granting, or denying funding to local governments based on their implementation of this measure. Repeals Article XXXIV of the California Constitution, which requires local voter approval for publicly funded low-rent housing projects.”

Cities are different, and they should be. Those who can afford the (increasingly sky-high) price to live in one of our hundreds of cities throughout the state can and will do so. But creating a governmentally mandated reduction on the supply of housing in California only serves to raise the cost of that housing for us all.

In the full language of the initiative, backers noted that ‘“One size does not fit all, and recent statewide land use and zoning laws will do great harm without significant input and participation from local communities.” That is certainly true. But every California city can still be different from the rest under the status quo. They just can’t put up a wall against the rest of us.