Since the founding of the Republic, local land use decisions have been made locally. In some states, they call it "home rule." But as state legislatures and executives have become increasingly frustrated by various impediments local rule poses for their preferred initiatives, they are increasingly looking to preempt local control. That's what's brewing in California, as reported by The Los Angeles Times.
Robert Tillman owns a coin-operated laundromat in San Francisco’s Mission District, a neighborhood at the epicenter of California’s housing crisis. Over the last 2½ years, he’s spent nearly $500,000 on plans to tear down the business to build apartments. But although the city has zoned the property for apartments, Tillman hasn’t gotten very far.
Local residents can file a formal complaint to the city to hold up Tillman’s project because they don’t like how it looks, how tall it is or where people will park, starting a chain of appeals leading all the way to the Board of Supervisors. Environmental lawsuits could add years of delay amid exploding demand for new homes in a region with six times as many new jobs and people as housing units added from 2010 to 2015, according to a study by the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley.
“Everything is a negotiation,” Tillman said of trying to build houses in San Francisco. “There’s no single person you can negotiate with who has the ability to make a deal.”
Under a new plan from Gov. Jerry Brown, that dynamic should change. Brown’s proposal would force local governments to approve any urban housing development provided the project matches the underlying zoning and a certain percentage of homes are set aside for the poor, adding some certainty to processes across the state that Tillman and other developers have described as overly complicated.