Saying No to NIMBYism and Saying Yes to Housing

When the environmental movement started in the 1970’s, saying “no” was a force for good.

Building houses on toxic waste dumps like Love Canal – you must say no. And you must say no to the Cuyahoga River catching fire. And say no to LA’s killer air.

When you pave paradise, “no” is the perfect word. NIMBYism, or Not-In-My-Backyard has its reasons.

In the same decade, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) established a public review process to provide analysis and take a range of environmental impacts into consideration prior to permitting major projects. Again, a very good thing.

But somewhere along the way, things went south. Our environmental immune system – the system created to protect us – started attacking the body politic. Californians developed a knee-jerk aversion to change, especially to new housing.

Today, we have an enormous shortage of housing, a situation which is exacerbated by increasing costs of living, (that outpace gains in wages), which has placed housing out of reach for more and more Californians.

The 3 P’s of affordable housing are production (of new housing), preservation (of existing affordable housing units), and protection (of tenants who are vulnerable to the displacing impacts of rent increases).

NIMBYism is getting in the way of that first element – new housing production.

Racist housing policies of yesteryear, such as racial covenants and exclusionary low-density zoning restrictions that prohibit multi-family apartment buildings, have created and continue to reinforce disparities. That terrible legacy lives on. Those who were able to purchase homes years ago have enjoyed ever-rising property values, while those left-out continue to feel the squeeze of the housing shortage raising their rents.

And it’s lower-income households that get priced out of urban, transit-accessible neighborhoods and are then compelled to drive until they can afford to live. This trend disrupts community ties, works against community resilience, and adds many miles to the daily commute, which increases traffic and amplifies our region’s contribution of greenhouse gasses. Our unhoused neighbors face a more and more saturated service ecosystem as they search for housing, and more and more folks are falling into homelessness. A roof over your head is the first line of defense against climate impacts like extreme heat.

Thankfully, there is good news. Next month, new laws are coming into effect that will counter exclusionary zoning and help create new housing.

AB 2011 (Wicks) exempts from CEQA delays new multifamily housing projects that include at least 15% affordable units, are built by prevailing wage labor, and located in commercially-zoned areas.

AB 2097 (Friedman) eliminates parking requirements for housing and commercial buildings near public transit, making transit-accessible housing easier and cheaper to build.

AB 2234 (Robert Rivas) requires municipalities to issue post-entitlement building permits, such as for plumbing and electricity, according to enforceable timetables in order to prevent unnecessary and costly delays to producing new housing.

Climate Resolve welcomes these new laws. They are salutary correctives to the stultifying “just say no” impulse that currently afflicts local government. It’s time that we say “yes” to the type of change that will make our communities more resilient and just.

With climate change breathing down our necks, Angelenos deserve to live in transit-accessible, climate-resilient homes. We won’t relent until that’s the case.

Bryn Lindblad
Deputy Director

Climate Resolve

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