Would the Mother of All NIMBY Ballot Initiatives Accidentally Allow More Development?
In response to increasingly successful state-level efforts in California to nudge local governments into allowing more housing, anti-development opponents have introduced a sweeping ballot measure that would effectively strip the state of its ability to regulate land use.
This past week, activists submitted language for their “Californians for Community Planning Initiative” to the state’s attorney general. Their measure would amend the state’s constitution to specify that in the event of a conflict between state and local land use laws, local laws will prevail.
The immediate target of the initiative, according to the group’s website, is a series of state bills—S.B. 9, S.B. 10, and A.B. 1401—that respectively legalize duplexes statewide, allow local governments to skip lengthy environmental reviews when zoning for small apartment buildings, and forbid local governments from requiring that new development near transit stops include parking spaces.
“For far too long, California has relied on a broken land use planning system driven by Sacramento politicians and special interests that incentivizes over-development of market rate housing,” said John Heath, an initiative proponent and president of Los Angeles’ United Homeowners’ Association, in a press release. “We the people get to determine what our neighborhoods look like instead of relying on one-size-fits-all social engineering policies from Sacramento.”
The idea behind these bills—alongside past state legislative efforts to legalize mid-rise apartment buildings near transit stops and job centers—is to route around local governments who too often stymie new housing development.
Bills that shift land-use decisions to the state level, where policy makers are theoretically more inclined to support new development, have popped up in state legislatures from Maryland to Oregon in recent years.
The preamble to the Community Planning initiative raises a number of issues with this approach. Local officials, it says, are better positioned to address the impacts of new development on infrastructure and the environment. Allowing denser apartments close to bus and rail stops will “eliminate
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