Nothing but Palaces 6

Construction has an even worse enemy than bureaucracy.

It's been said that every problem has a solution that is simple, obvious, and wrong.  As we've seen throughout this series, the question of why housing prices have increased so insanely over the past few decades is far more complex.  There are plenty of answers simple and complex, all of which contribute, and none of which offer a full explanation.

In the last article, we talked about what is clearly one of the biggest reasons: government over-regulation and flat-out ownership of otherwise buildable land.  At the macro level, this is probably the largest single obstacle that stands in the way of private enterprise building as many houses as we need.

This presents an clear solution: elect new political leaders who want to solve the housing crisis, and are willing to strip away the red tape and obstacles that hamstring developers.  Simple!  Obvious!

And, yes... wrong.  From the land of fruits and nuts comes, once again, an explanation and example as to why:

A particularly egregious example of what California has in store for the rest of America is the proposed Tejon Ranch housing project that has been embroiled in permitting delays and lawsuits for over 25 years. This massive project, a planned community of over 19,000 badly needed new homes, would straddle Interstate 5 in the northwest corner of Los Angeles County. The developers have committed to set aside 90 percent of the land as a nature preserve, after which the NRDC, the Sierra Club, and the Nature Conservancy all withdrew their objections. But it only takes one: The Center for Biological Diversity has filed yet another lawsuit, and another year is lost.  [emphasis added]

Consider what is happening here.

A full quarter-century ago - that's right, in the last millennium - some enterprising entrepreneur observed the need for new houses and decided to fill that need.  He purchased a vast tract of land in a suitable location, already served by a major freeway, and near enough to the overcrowded Los Angeles basin for people who lived there to work in LA.

In what was truly a free country, that would be that: the owner would start slapping down and selling houses, and 19,000 Californian families would move in.

In the actual State of California, not a single house has been built.  This development fell prey to the same permitting tyranny we explored in our previous article.  But that was just the beginning of the problems, because after the permits were obtained, the lawsuits began.

What possible standing could any organization have to sue over what a private owner legally does with their own property?  To ask the question is to answer it: none whatosever.  Any other answer is a combination of tyranny and theft.

And indeed, we see the theft: environmentalists have somehow successfully demanded that full 90% of the land be stolen and "set aside" as a nature reserve.  Our Founders started an armed revolution over taxes far lower than 90%, and it isn't even a government demanding this tribute!  Yet somehow, these lawfare leeches have so enthralled our supposed "justice" system that the owner felt a 90% tax was preferable to the alternative.

He was wrong.  He hadn't bribed enough leeches.  There's always one more "environmentalist" group with its hand out, and never an end!

At what point does it become not worth the bother?  Obviously, if he'd known in the 1990s that this was going to happen, he'd have invested his money elsewhere.  He's now been paying interest and property taxes for all these decades, all for nothing.  What sort of fool would ever again attempt a project of this magnitude anywhere within the remit of that government and judicial system?

True justice would have seen the greens thrown out of court on their ear, if not into jail, on Day One.  Government truly concerned with the needs of the people would have had the permits issued in months if not weeks.

What makes it even worse is that they not only know that they should speed upand simplify the permitting process, they are able to do it:

The destructive fires that roared through California over the last two years have displaced tens of thousands of people, creating a humanitarian crisis as well as a housing crisis. One of those fires provided valuable lessons on how to solve emergency housing shortages in the state — the Tubbs fire that ravaged the city of Santa Rosa and Sonoma County in 2017.

City and county officials treated the aftermath of the Tubbs fire as the crisis it was. In the months after the blaze, they implemented programs to expedite the rebuilding of thousands of homes. Santa Rosa reduced the fees the city levies on high-density, multifamily housing and on accessory dwelling units often called granny cottages. And instead of taking years to issue rebuilding permits, the city processed thousands each month. Sonoma County also waived some housing fees and opened a Resiliency Permit Center to speed up permitting for those dealing with fire damage.

The answer is not only plain to us, it's plain and well-known to the government authorities and judges in California.  For reasons best known to themselves, though, they choose to recognize it only on rare occasions.  The rest of the time, they gloat and revel in their power to prevent anything useful from being done.

The author of the above article, an elected California legislator, filed a bill to make the temporary high-speed permitting the permanent way of business.  We have every confidence that's the last we'll hear of that plan, until the next wildfire.

We've now seen several real, solid reasons why we don't have the housing supply we need - government makes construction impossible or unaffordable by excessive regulation and by tolerating the abuse of our courts by politically-favored anti-development greens.

Yet buildings still do get built; construction may not be nearly enough, but it's hardly dead.  We'll tie the threads together in the next article in our series, as we finally reach the source of our series title: Nothing But Palaces.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Law.
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