California’s six gubernatorial candidates – four Democrats and two Republicans – have one common platform: build more houses. Each one, of course, wants to be viewed by voters as the most qualified candidate to tackle California’s affordable housing shortage. An open primary is scheduled for June 8.
The only tangible difference among the six is that Democratic State Treasurer John Chiang proposes subsidizing 1.6 million low- and moderate-income housing units through a $9 billion bond measure. The other five candidates have set their new housing goals and time frames as follows: Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), 3.5 million through 2025; Antonio Villaraigosa, former Los Angeles Mayor (D), 3.5 million through 2025; Delaine Eastin (D), former California State Superintendent of Public Education, 1 million by 2023; John Cox (R), real estate development and property management company owner, 3 million over the next decade and Travis Allen (R), state assemblyman, a minimum of 1 million during his four-year term as governor.
One inevitable outcome the candidates’ housing proposals share, and prefer not to discuss, is that each would dramatically increase California’s urban sprawl. Hard to believe though it is, some analysts think that building on undeveloped green fields, the very definition of sprawl, is an acceptable solution. In his report, “Fading Promise: Millennial Prospects in the Golden State,” delivered last year to a rapt California Association of Realtors audience, Chapman University Center for Demographics and Policy fellow Joel Kotkin insisted that building more homes is the most practical solution to the state’s housing shortage, and more in line with millennials’ desire to own homes instead of renting apartments or buying condominiums.
Kotkin’s sprawling approach, however, means more roads, more driving, more schools, more hospitals, more pollution and more water consumption. Last fall, Urban Institute analysts linked Northern California’s deadly wildfires, the 42 deaths they caused and the destruction of 8,700 structures to urban sprawl. Population density made it impossible for rescue crews to reach the endangered areas in enough time to avert disaster.
Whether building goes upward or outward, more construction is at best an inefficient, stopgap solution to California’s housing shortage. Sure, developers could, with Sacramento’s blessing, eventually build on every acre in California. But eventually California will have to come to terms with its true problem – too many people.
California’s current population is about 39 million, and the State Department of Finance projects that in 2050, it will reach 50 million. On average, California’s cities and countries will add about 25 percent to existing population totals, but cannot build indefinitely to accommodate the ever-expanding population base. Imagine the nightmare of L.A. County, already severely strained today with a population of 10 million, with another million people in 2050.
The Pew Research Center identified immigration and births to immigrants as the major population driver in past years, and predicts that immigrants and their descendants will be the central factor in population growth during the next 50 years. Yet California has resisted suggestions that it identify commonsense positions that might make the state less welcoming to illegal immigrants. The California Senate recently introduced a bill that would extend Medi-Cal benefits to all the state’s adult residents, regardless of their immigration status. Such legislation, should it pass, would not only encourage more illegal immigration by foreign nationals living abroad, but also be an incentive for illegal immigrants in the other 49 states to move to California.
As long as California’s population continues upward, the state will be locked in a losing battle to build enough housing for its residents.