Not In My Backyard

Last week I heard this episode of Planet Money which was cross-posted from their sister podcast, The Indicator, and have found its subject recently on my mind, for some reason.  The episode describes the current California governor, Gavin Newsom, suing Huntington Beach, California –a place that describes itself as “Surf City USA”— over not providing enough affording housing.

Newsom is trying to force Huntington Beach to construct more affordable housing because that’s apparently mandated somewhere, passed long ago, in California’s state charter/body of statutory law.  Huntington Beach is resisting, saying something to the effect: “If we build all this new affordable housing here, it’ll change the character of our surf city!  And we don’t want that!  Don’t tread on us!”

While I totally understand both sides of the issue, here my sympathies are definitely more with Huntington Beach.  It makes sense to me that the town’s existing residents should have the final say over how they run their city.  Now, obviously, this doesn’t give them free reign to go about discriminating against folks based on religion/sex/ethnicity/etc.  For all that stuff, they need to adhere to federal anti-discrimination laws/the ‘equal protections’ clause in the 14th amendment/etc.

But when it specifically comes down to “affordable housing,” Newsom needs to get outta here.  Some Soviet-style, top-down, divine command from on high in Sacramento just has no place in Huntington Beach, California.  If the residents of HB don’t want more people in their backyard, then they have that right.  This is a democracy; we vote on things.  This is what self-rule looks like.  For all of the people priced out of HB, sorry– but I encourage you guys to go live somewhere cheaper.  I say this as someone who was similarly priced out of my own hometown, a place I lived in for nearly two decades.  Of course it’s unfortunate to be forced to leave your friends and family, and that comfort and security.  But I had no job and simply couldn’t find one where I’d been.  And so I set off for greener (read: cheaper) pastures.  I left my church and everyone I’d ever known to embark upon a new life with Bagel in a cheaper state and area.  And yes– while there have certainly been setbacks, I feel it’s ultimately been worth it.  America is still the land of opportunity, but you’ve gotta chase it.  It doesn’t just magically fall into your lap.

America is largely a capitalistic society.  High housing prices are market forces at work trying to redistribute people to geographically more affordable areas that need those displaced people and their talent.  This in turn reinforces a virtuous cycle– more housing is built in underdeveloped areas.  Blighted areas are revitalized.  New businesses, like restaurants and cafes, then spring up to meet the new influx of residents.  Etc.  This is good; this is a feature.  Not a bug.  But for it to happen, people need to be redistributed across the country.  Housing and living costs need to increase so people relocate.

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