In spite of the fact that California is a state with ample open space for building, California is one of the worst places in the world to try to buy a house. There’s plenty of room for new homes, but far too few ever get built. At a staggering 163,707 square miles in size, California is so huge that its 35 million inhabitants only average 213 people per square mile. Germany, by contrast, has 598 people per square mile. The United Kingdom has 641 people per square mile.
In spite of having all this empty land, Californians have deluded themselves into thinking their open space is in jeopardy. Over the last 30 years, a powerful anti-growth lobby has developed that has stymied virtually all attempts to build roads and houses. Very few developers are able to weather this storm, and the homes they build are crammed onto lots so small you can barely fit a swingset in the back yard.
Because of development restrictions, we have tiny new homes costing $500,000 that are worth $150,000. Then we try to compensate by mandating “affordable housing” that reduces the price of a tiny house to a whopping $350,000. This is absurd and stupid, and is the result of a small lobby of fanatics manipulating the public, the media, and the political leadership.
Why shouldn’t a farmer be allowed to grow houses instead of food? Most of California’s cities grew on prime farmland. But per square mile, homes don’t use as much water as most crops, and there is no danger of California running out of farmland.
Even if building on farms isn’t a good idea, why should that stop development in hills and rangeland? Protecting endangered species is important, but has been turned into an over-used weapon by anti-development fanatics to stop property owners from building subdivisions.
If development restraints were dramatically lessened, we would have affordable homes for nearly everyone. It would completely transform our economy in a most positive way. It would allow people to live the American dream, instead of living in indentured servitude to their mortgages.
If development restraints were dramatically lessened, development would, ironically, take a more natural course, since many smaller players would be able to engage in more diverse and dispersed building. The result would be far more aesthetically pleasing than the walled off stucco canyons that typify current new housing projects.
Finally, if development restraints were dramatically loosened, inner-city farms and parks would not have to be “in-filled” out of existence. And outside cities, land would be cheaper allowing the purchase of easements to protect vast areas of greenbelts and farms, and developers would be able to afford to carpet the land with vast and beautiful swaths of rural “ranchette” communities.
The costs of stifling home building and road building are far, far higher than the benefits. Let property owners build homes if they want to, and give California back to the people.