Is There a Democratic Plot To Abolish the Suburbs? Don’t Believe It.
As Republicans battle Democratic electoral advances in the nation’s politically pivotal suburbs, they’ve been sounding the alarms about a liberal plot to dismantle our beloved single-family neighborhoods. For instance, the conservative National Review in June declared, “Biden and Dems are set to abolish the suburbs.”
This would be shocking if true, rather than a transparent attempt to scare soccer moms into voting for the GOP. “For the past three years, the state senator who represents Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco has led a push to abolish single-family zoning in California,” wrote President Donald Trump and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, in a Wall Street Journal column last month. Good grief.
I’ve long chronicled the disastrous development policies that California’s Democrats have pursued. These include excessive fees, regulations, slow-growth rules and mandates that quash housing construction and hike prices. In their battle against climate change, they have backed urban-growth boundaries that set aside vast tracts of land—and attempt to force new construction into a high-density urban footprint.
Furthermore, the state’s Democrats—and even many Republicans—had backed the state’s now-defunct redevelopment agencies. Those relics of the 1950s urban-renewal era gave local officials the power to play real-life SimCity (a city-building videogame) in their communities, whereby they subsidize favored developers and abuse eminent domain in a perverse quest to grab tax revenue and remake their communities as they choose.
California has among the highest home prices and poverty rates in America thanks in part to such restrictions on housing. So there’s plenty of fodder for Republicans who want to take on Democrats’ misguided land-use policies. It’s ironic, though, that they have chosen to take a stand against the one development issue where many Democrats are on the mark.
Let’s start with semantics. Eliminating single-family zoning does not ban the construction of single-family homes. We should banish the idea’s supporters to the nether reaches of the ugliest imaginable tract suburb for their failure to properly label this modest change. Single-family zoning allows only the construction of single-family homes. Eliminating it, as Oregon has done, allows the construction of other things in addition to single-family homes.
Trump and Carson were referring to Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, who most recently authored the now-defunct Senate Bill 1120, which would allow the construction of duplexes in suburban areas. The senator is wrong on most state policy issues, but he is right about this particular matter. Here, he was championing fewer regulations, freer markets, more consumer choice, and less government micromanagement.
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