Column: Demise of R-1 Zoning Will Lead to New Blockbusting

By Tom Elias, Columnist

Blockbusting. A technique used to encourage people to sell their property by giving the impression that a neighborhood is changing for the worse, causing property values to decline. The property is later resold at inflated prices.

Definition 2, American Heritage Dictionary

Blockbusting has not been a major force in California life since the early 1980s, when civil rights laws took hold strongly. Those laws prevented brokers from trying to scare white homeowners into selling quickly and at a loss just because a family of another race moves into a residential neighborhood, the prime definition of blockbusting.

Now a new era of blockbusting may be upon us, thanks to the landmark housing density laws passed last year, known as SB 9 and SB 10. SB 9 does away with almost all single family, or R-1, zoning by allowing all but a few residential lots to be split down the middle, with two new apartments or condominiums and an “additional dwelling unit” (grandma-style one-room structure) on each half.

So SB 9 essentially allows six housing units on virtually all lots where there now is only one, everywhere in California. Cities and counties cannot stop this. SB 10, aiming to radically densify housing near light rail transit stops or major bus routes, allows high-rise development on any lot within half a mile of those transportation features.

Neither bill requires developers to provide new parking, new water supplies, new school buildings, new parks, traffic mitigation or any other community amenity in exchange for the right to build.

Developers merely need to get control of properties they want to remake.

This is an open invitation to blockbusting, as described in Definition 2. If it happens, it will eventually lower property values in current R-1 areas at least temporarily and raise them in places where the current occupants move.

Much of this could have been prevented if a proposed initiative to take land-use decisions away from state government and give them permanently and completely to local city and county elected officials had reached this fall’s ballot and passed.

But in late February, sponsors of that putative measure, known as “Our Neighborhood Voices,” announced they’ve given up on qualifying the measure for a vote this fall and will aim instead for 2024.

“We are not stopping, we are not slowing down, we are not ever going to give up until we have restored a neighborhood voice in community planning,” went the plaintive declaration of Redondo Beach Mayor Bill Brand, a sponsor of the proposed measure.

Translation: The group saw it had neither the money nor personnel to gather enough signatures in time to qualify the measure this year. This may be because sponsors failed to raise enough cash to pay the army of petition carriers needed to get the 1 million-plus signatures now required. The number will be different, likely lower, for 2024.

It all opens the door to three years of unmitigated, virtually unregulated development, and very likely a form of blockbusting much like that described in Definition 2 above.

Here’s how that blockbusting might work:

Let’s say you own a suburban three-bedroom. two-bath house. A developer offers you $1.5 million for your home, as is (such offers have lately been common). You refuse. But your next-door neighbor to the east accepts the offer and quickly moves somewhere cheaper.

Next, developers buy the homes to your west and across the street. Now you’re surrounded, knowing you face a year or more of demolition and construction dust and noise from all sides, newly crowded streets and no possible return to the lifestyle in which you invested much of your life savings.

So you accept an offer lower than what was originally proffered. Now there will be 24 housing units where previously there were four, and original property values have dropped.

But when you try to buy in a new location, you find prices there have risen because of an influx of folks just like you.

It’s classic blockbusting, even if it’s not racially based, as blockbusting traditionally was. And it may soon become ubiquitous.

Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. 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 www.californiafocus.net

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