The fight for liberty in our time, SB 827

SB 827, a new bill before the California Senate, would require that all areas within a mile of a high-frequency transit stop, or within a half-mile of a bus or transit corridor, allow heights of at least 45 or 85 feet (depending on distance from transit, width of street, and other characteristics). That’s roughly four to eight stories, far higher than what many local zoning commissions allow.

SB 827 would also waive any minimum parking requirements in those areas and prohibit any design requirement that would have the effect of arbitrarily lowering the square footage allowed on a lot.

The bill’s changes would apply to huge swathes of the state, including the majority of land in several major cities. It would unleash dense development In markets long dominated by powerful anti-housing activists (often called NIMBYs, for Not In My Backyard). It represents a housing revolution.

There is much more at the link, David Roberts interviews Brian Hanlon at Vox.


Astronauts may be able to afford housing in San Francisco before they leave for Mars.

The goal then is to take away the rights of communities and even counties to regulate land use. Kind of a state land grab. Ask yourself why? After it succeeds, what is next? The swamp is winning, citizens are losing.

I see it the other way around. The bill loosens the regulatory control of local elites and gives developers more options, but does not require any action.

This could encourage the development of housing for lower income people near mass transit. Some communities will fight it based on a bias against these people.

This could encourage the development of micro-communities offering a variety of businesses and housing around hubs. Look at Washington DC where restaurants often locate around metro stops.

Taxpayers paid for these public transit improvements, why should local elites have the ability to monopolize their benefits.

But since this makes too much sense, it will never pass in California. They are all for helping the poor, immigrants, and minorities until they try to move in next door.

BTW there is a risk. In Chicago, the expansion of the EL into surrounding communities, especially the south side, did contribute to white flight and significantly lowered housing values in those communities. You can ride the EL today and see vast stretches of vacant lots on either side as you ride the rails. Liquor stores are a popular amenity at many transits stops.

Just as the arguments for forced school busing underestimated the degree to which whites would flee urban school districts. So did the expansion of mass transit.

On the north side of Chicago, the expansion of the EL did not lead to as much white flight. Or rather a little at first in some communities but then gentrification reversed the trend.

But of course in California, they won't have any negative problems like white flight. Where would they go? Why would they fear a few lower income people in their community?

And this isn't just racial. I remember hearing the entertainers Mike Nichols and Elaine May describe Hyde Park in Chicago as a community where black and white unite, against poor people.

Will the real California please stand up?

On the north side of Chicago, the expansion of the EL did not lead to as much white flight. Or rather a little at first in some communities but then gentrification reversed the trend.

See Mr. Sailer's brief memoir of his father-in-law. The salient vector in inducing white flight is a breakdown in law-and-order, most especially of the rapid neighborhood-tipping sort. You can put the breaks on white flight by hiring cops, deploying them optimally, and motivating said cops to be out on the street and not in the doughnut shop. You have to have their back during public controversies.

“This could encourage the development of housing for lower income people near mass transit.”

Indeed, that is the purpose. Imagine you have a nice community with open spaces and a decent tax base, good schools and low crime rates. Then State legislators who live in safe gated communities pass a law like this and it destroys your town.

“Some communities will fight it based on a bias against these people.”

Based on bias or real world experience or good common sense. Crime follows low income people and the federal, state and local housing subsidies. Should they not “fight” it? Isn’t that their right to fight it? Or should they just sit and wait until their million dollar home drops in value and their children are assaulted in the streets and the schools?

“Look at Washington DC where restaurants often locate around metro stops.”

As do the robbers, muggers and carjackers. Much of DC is unsafe to walk around in after dark.

” They are all for helping the poor, immigrants, and minorities until they try to move in next door.”

So why don’t you take in these poor but otherwise sterling individuals???

What is the chance of some municipalities eliminating mass transit?

If someone builds an 8 story building and 50 people move into that building then those 50 people would be citizens of that community. Saying the 'community loses' implies the 'community' owns that building....but it doesn't.

Reminds me of the scene in Dr. Zhivaggo when after the revolution he moves back into his own house but the local committee puts a a dozen or two others in their with him and his family. By your reasoning they are all now residents so why should the good doctor resent them. But wait! That was communism where the citizens had no rights. Yup!

because they aren't moving into your house.
the real issue is there isn't enough housing for people of all incomes, a zoning induced shortage.

Also keep in mind 'the community' didn't build those transit corridors, the larger community of the state did. Why shouldn't the state demand that transit corridors be as efficient as possible by ensuring population around them will not be artificially made less dense?

I hope it passes.

I have called my state reps in support.

But in the bigger picture, I think it shows that people get it. NIMBYism is very narrowly local optimizing and globally destructive.

I too second Moo cow and Anonymous, even as a property owner with 8 figure net worth in DC area real estate who benefits from NIMBY (our stuff is built, and NIMBY keeps rental prices high). For example, for you DC Beltway insiders, why should Route 123 aka "Maple Avenue" (Ha! haven't seen a maple tree there for decades) en route to "Tysons Corner" not be like Rosslyn, Arlington, Virginia, with high-rises on each side of the street? Just crossing that street is hazardous, there's so much traffic on it. And the stores on both sides of that street do not have the density for pedestrians to enjoy: it's all nearly abandoned strip malls (notice the setbacks in Mclean and Vienna, what a joke, so much parking that nobody uses). Tear them down and build "Metro Manila" style 70-storey plus highrises (I'm in one now, it's nice)!

I too second Moo Cow and anonymous. Build those slums (I mean affordable housing) in those transient (I mean transit) corridors. Nevada and Texas thank you.

You're awful.

SB 827, a new bill before the California Senate, would require that all areas within a mile of a high-frequency transit stop, or within a half-mile of a bus or transit corridor

So high density housing for poor people. Not for rich people. Essentially a hidden subsidy for rich people's houses.

The basic problem remains: It is difficult to build housing in California, thanks in part to a thicket of local parking regulations, building requirements, zoning restrictions, and bureaucratic choke points. The state’s (generally whiter, wealthier) residents use these tools to prevent new construction that might house (generally more diverse, poorer) newcomers.

Vox gets it. Everyone understands that Old School Environmentalism is just Apartheid for the Upper Middle Class. It will be interesting to see what side of that divide the One Party state of California comes down on. I am betting on the rich old White dudes myself.

What a gift to local politicians though. If they add a bus route everyone gets tenements full of illegal immigrants built next door. What if they add a route, a lot of places get permits and then they move the route? Oh joy, oh joy.

Yes. I would expect one would see some amazingly gerimandered transit routes, and intensely fought disputes over routes and transit stop locations.

It's a great idea and I hope it passes.

Why would SB827-allowed housing be only "for poor people." SB827 would upzone almost all of San Francisco. Plenty of rich folks would like to live there.

Because bourgeoisie and elites don't use public transportation and generally (though not uniformly) buy single-family residences so they can be around other similarly affluent people.

Omg have you never headd of black service cars. Rich people don’t drive themselves either.

Have you ever been in a city with a decent public transportation system? The rich use it too because it's the best way to around.

No they don't. They use car services.

I don't think you'll find rich people using the BART system. Too much crime, too much public urination and defecation, too many used needles. It was once wonderful, but it's declined due to incompetent and highly overpaid management.

Really rich people don't use public transit, but upwardly mobile hipsters in urban areas do. That's why housing near transit stops has higher rents. Plenty of yuppied dinks and hipsters are willing to pay a premium to live near a subway stop.

People. You mean to say tenements full of people next door.

If this becomes the battle line for a ‘fight for liberty in our lifetime’ then ‘we’ are doomed

Yes, a somewhat modest objective “for our lifetime”.

What I also find ironic and a bit discouraging is the process and the methods. This is an anti-regulations regulation. Instead of killing the regulation, and leaving the issue to the market and customs, they think to add another layer of regulation. It might well be that this was the only realistic way, but it might also be another example of the thouroughly statist way most people think nowadays: if you put a restriction on my liberty backed by the violence of the state,, I’ll put a restriction to your restriction also backed by the same violence, voluntary agreements and the market be damned.

BTW, this law or regulation creates a huge space for perverse incentives, as somebody already posted above. Apparently, developers have only to corrupt politicians to create another stop to be able to build much higher, taking down the value of the property around. This might be a disincentive to buy and develop property where there is not a public transport stop, unless the prices of land and existing old properties immediately decrease to reflect this future possibility. Being that a mere possibility, the price will not anyway decrease at the level that it would have if the traffic stop is to be built for sure. Therefore a rent will still be there, but in a much more precarious position, increasing the incentives to invest in order to protect it, which means lobbying and corrupting. Reminds of Mises’ Planned Chaos: no matter how well intentioned, every time you use the dead hand of the State instead of the spontaneous order of the market, you create a monster with unexpected consequences (or, in this case, very expected by greedy politicians and “public servants”)

19 b art lending market. Carlyle group backs Athena. Citibank continues to finance Deitch for a warehouse in LA. Suzanne Geiss continues to go missing.

Tyler, you should invite Sen. Scott Wiener for a Conversation

Well, that should kill mass transit once and for all.

Exactly. "We" don't use mass transit for the same reason "we" don't live in certain neighborhoods.

The same kind of bullshit valuation that occurs in financial markets occurs at a much higher rate in the art market – because the concepts in art are actually more esoteric than financial instruments. Today, there is a booming 19 Billion dollar at lending industry. Virtue signaling raises prices even further. Arguably art markets are some of the most corrupt markets in the Western world today. In 2008, MOCA’s endowment went from $40 billion to $8 billion, and the California’s attorney general was investigating their finances. When Mr. Paul Schimmel was fired in 2012 from MOCA, Jerry Saltz, the renowned art critic, wrote “He also speaks truth to stupid. Or to covetous sharks. Or to bosses, like MoCA's director, Jeffrey Deitch, who many believe is turning the museum into, as Gleason put it, "a celebrity-curated kunsthalle-style circus. " The quote is indeed apt.

Would not this simply hurt mass transit? Nimbys preventing or removing transit stops near their neighborhoods? Fighting new metro stations?

The bill's sponsor addresses this concern under "Will SB 827 reduce support for transit investment?" in

Thanks for the link ItMe. He makes a good argument.

What is transit for, if not to move people who live in densly populated areas? So what if no more transit gets built, at least then the transit gets used.

Rhetorical question. The answer is virtue signalling.

On second thought, if Berkeleys mayor is against it I'm all for it.

And that my friend is how one demonstrates he is a loyal soldier in an all out culture war. Props to you for owning it.

Berkeley's mayor isn't always wrong, but it sure is the way to bet.

And, by the way, you are one of the worst loyal soldiers here. Artimus' comment obviously had a somewhat tongue in cheek quality. You don't always have to be a douchebag.

You secretly agree with me that it's sad and idiotic for people to see literally everything through the lens of tribal politics these days. But you call me a douche bag because your particular tribe has you usually disagreeing with my viewpoint. Let's promise each other to never agree on anything, deal?

"You secretly agree with me that it’s sad and idiotic for people to see literally everything through the lens of tribal politics these days. "

Not at all secretly. It's just that you're a hypocrite about this. I've seen you take completely inane positions so you would not have to agree with a conservative.

What are you referring to? Inane because you disagreed with me? And are you really watching my comments, which are pretty sporadic nowadays, on this here blog that closely?

Lol, thank you Jan, you are a by-word for bipartisan thinking yourself, are you not?

Ha, do you think I'd even bother reading the comments on a blog populated by 90% conservatives (some extremely so) and libertarian participants if I weren't open minded on a lot of stuff?

"So, are communities going to be able to create rules that dictate what buildings look like? Absolutely! You can still do that under SB 827."

Prediction: all new buildings in these designated transit zones will be required by NIMBYs to be clad with 24 karat gold bricks.

Or simply require "muted earth tones derived from either painted surfaces or natural materials" as the wise elders of Mill Valley, CA do, to keep the boutique storefronts in line

What's funny is this is probably entirely unncessary overkill likely to create all kinds of unintended consequences when just eliminating regulations -- zoning that excludes multi-family housing, height limits, parking requirements, etc -- and reducing red tape -- burdensome permit processes, system development fees, and the like -- would probably keep developers busy for decades.


Hard to achieve is different than hard to administer.
Why is it so hard to get people to agree to do nothing, when doing nothing is so easy to implement?

except the localities won't do it.

Liberty and providing a chance for property owners to get richer - clearly the same thing at this web site.

Why stop there? In the interests of liberty, why not throw out this California legal framework? 'Vinod Khosla, the influential technology investor and co-founder of Sun Microsystems, has been battling California regulators and environmental advocates for years over access to Martin’s Beach, a picturesque cove about 30 miles south of San Francisco that can only be reached by a private road across Khosla’s property.

Khosla has consistently lost his legal fight, thanks to California state law that regulates access to the coastline – and prioritizes public access to beaches. In August 2017, a California appeals court ordered him to restore access by unlocking the gate to the road, an order with which he has only intermittently complied.'

People need homes, clockwork. The US population is growing and the economy has emptied out jobs in rural areas and even some urban ones.

And why stop there indeed? Why not forbid all construction and have the federal or state government start buying houses and knocking them down?

'People need homes, clockwork.'

Yes, they do. However, do they need so much? '1. In 2014, the average size of new houses built increased to an all-time high of 2,690 square feet (see dark blue line in top chart), and the median size new home set a new record of 2,506 square feet (see light blue line in chart). Over the last 40 years, the average home has increased in size by more than 1,000 square feet, from an average size of 1,660 square feet in 1973 (earliest year available from Census) to 2,690 square feet last year. Likewise, the median-size home has increased in size by almost 1,000 square feet, from 1,525 square feet in 1973 to 2,506 last year. In percentage terms, the average home size has increased by 62% since 1973, while the median home size increased by 64%.

2. While the average size of a new US home has increased over the last 40 years, the average household size has been declining over that period, from 3.01 persons per household on average in 1973 to a new record low of 2.54 persons per household in the last two years (2013 and 2014), a reduction of almost one-half person per household over the last 40 years (see brown line in top chart).

With the average new house in the US getting larger in size at the same time that American households are getting smaller, the square footage of living space per person in a new home has increased from 507 to 987 square feet using the median size home, and from 551 to 1,059 square feet using the average size home. In percentage terms, that’s a 95% increase using the median home size and a 92% increase using the average home size. In either case, the average amount of living space per person in a new home has almost doubled in just the last 41 years – that’s pretty amazing.'

'Why not forbid all construction'

Why do that? Why not make it easier to build smaller apartment buildings with the average living space per occupant that Americans had in 1973? Or change zoning laws to remove the sort of restrictions found in Fairfax City - 'Accessory dwelling units (more than one household)
The City’s zoning regulations allow for one accessory dwelling unit in a single-family house. Accessory dwelling units are restricted to owner-occupied property where at least one occupant is 55 years of age or older and/or at least one occupant has a physical or mental impairment. Accessory dwelling units may include a kitchen, sleeping and bathroom facilities in addition to the facilities within the single-family house. Accessory dwelling units require a public hearing and approval by City Council.'

In at least some markets, the smaller “starter” homes are not economic to build, due to the increased per lot cost, i.e. the lot costs say $100K before you put any house on it, so the builders put up a larger, more expensive house to make the lot+house price work.

I rarely hear anyone complain that their home has too much square footage.

it's terrible that people can afford larger homes these days. Just terrible.

the square footage of living space per person in a new home has increased from 507 to 987 square feet using the median size home, and from 551 to 1,059 square feet using the average size home

If things keep going like this, a generation from now, everyone will be living in palatial mansions.

Thanks for posting about this. I live in Bay Area, and watched my social circle get devastated by high rent prices. I'm gonna reach out to them and see what I can do to support.

I read about this several days ago in an article in the WP (or maybe the NYT) and was waiting for Tabarrok to comment. It's a much better proposal than the other, recent proposal (not in California) to add a surtax for property located near public transit, which would seem to discourage development near public transit. The California proposal, by contrast, would encourage both higher density development and public transit, a win-win. As to public transit, the proposal should have the same effect of new major highways, namely, land developers working behind the scenes (that's a euphemism) to get the new highway located through the developer's land, adding enormous value to the land and to the developer's bank account. An aside, the article about the California proposal points out that California comes in 49th in housing units per capita. It's nice that a state besides Mississippi or Alabama holds up the bottom - the joke in the South is that God made Mississippi so Alabama wouldn't come in last.

"SB 827 would also waive any minimum parking requirements in those areas and prohibit any design requirement that would have the effect of arbitrarily lowering the square footage allowed on a lot."

Where will all those cars go? I am skeptical of alleged solutions that undermine the lives f the communities. It is sad to see how any caution regrding socia engineering goes through the window as son as way is found to make speculator even richer.

People would use the transit. In Chicago, they waive minimum parking for transit oriented building and then when the people who live in those units try to get street parking permits, they are denied on the principle that they agreed to live in transit oriented housing. They're rental units, so anyone who finds a new life circumstance don't face particularly high costs to move.

Also, the bill doesn't impose maximum parking, so developers are free to build parking according to what they think the market wants. Much better than local government fiat.

Typically developers underbuild parking, and then residents of the building and their guests flood the surrounding neighborhoods with cars.

They're not going to *have* cars. That's the whole *point*. The people passing this law have a lovely, lovely vision of a brave new world where we all live in giant beehives and never go anywhere that isn't within walking distance of a train station.

I forgot renting cars was an option.

Not everyone wants to live near 8-story buildings, Tyler, and no one cares how much YOU want them to live near 8-story buildings.

If they are dumb enough to pass this -- it's California, so odds are good -- I hope its only effect is to eliminate mass transit stops. Which would have some environmental upsides as well.

Environmental downsides.

People don't like all sorts of things. Having the government prohibit everything everyone doesn't like will mean nothing will be permitted.

And anyway there are plenty of places people can live and be away from apartment buildings. But now fewer places where apartment buildings aren't prohibited.

In 2016, more three car garages were built than one bedroom apartments. Mostly because zoning.

I have a simple solution for you: just buy all the plots around yours. This way, you can make sure no 8 story buildings ever gets build around your house. Perfect!

Similarly, if you don't like how parking spaces are quite narrow, and you have to squeeze to get inside your car, you can just pay for two or three spots at the same time, which will give you some extra space. Of course, some people would rather petition for increasing minimum width of a parking space, which will result on fewer spaces being built, and put upward pressure on the price of each spot. This way, instead of paying more for more parking than you need, everyone has to pay for more than they need, just to satisfy the preferences of the few.

who do I pay? ridiculous.

Seems like sweet time for construction work, and manufacture of construction materials and equipment, and moving van operators

I favor the promotion of manly jobs, of cities, and of perfect weathr

Now that the Wall is going up, I'm hoping it will extend all the way around about 19 counties in California which encompass the majority of the state's people and 98% of their flakes and gangbangers. Mexico can have it.

Did you notice Will Wilkinson echoing one of my memes? The Treaty of Guadalupe matters.

I noticed Wilkinson's column. It's transparent hooey.

Lo siento, no.

Even by Vox standards, that article is a mess.

I thought it was one of MY memes. (Not the treaty of guadalupe specifically, but the point that America has always been multicultural).

The good thing is that there are so many non-white Americans that the people who want to define Americanness as uniquely white are doomed to failure. A lot of people are sick of the culture wars and the partisan warfare. Most people want peace and social harmony. They want to get along with their non-white neighbors and coworkers. And those non-white segments of society aren't going anywhere. You either accept all these different groups as fully American or you spend the rest of your life fighting against them for ethnic dominance. The vast majority of Americans are going to choose harmony.

This definitely wouldn't have any unintended consequences.

Amazing how many MR libertarians are secret nimbies.

You would get dense development if it is permitted and if there is demand to live that way. Yes, deregulate. But deregulate at more than just transit stations but more broadly. That would be the only way to see how much higher density is desired and feasible -- and where.

Did the CA-YIMBY site dedicated to SB 827 include a copy of, or link to the text of the bill it's asking people to support?

We must pass it to see what is in it.

That's an odd framing of "liberty": state-level social engineering of localities to enable use of perenially tax-eating public transit, with the side goal of more serfs for the urban Democratic farm.

Do you still really believe in all these abstract religious principles?

I get you man. California is bad, so any marginal advancement of freedom in California must be bad, because it is at the margins, and in California.

Freedom schmeedom. This is about making sure California cities remain reliably socialistic.

That makes both the Bay Area = California error, and the can't tell more from less error.

This *allows* higher density and would "apply to huge swathes of the state, including the majority of land in several major cities."

The more I read about issues in America, the more I think Canada, Toronto in particular, is paradise. I mean only 85 feet? What? Build that sucker a minimum of 30 floors or just don't bother.

Why is there a "Greater Toronto Area?" Why isn't everybody cramming themselves inside the city limits of Toronto to live 30-story buildings? I mean, paradise, right?

Agreed. I think SB 827 should be amended to preclude any height limit whatsoever.

Implementation flaw: it just moves the regulatory capture problem from the local zoning authority to the local transit authority. If this passes, transit schedules will be adjusted to lower frequencies, and bus lines will be canceled and rerouted.

True, but in practice wouldn't a regional transit authority be harder to capture than any one of the tiny rich enclaves they serve?

It's easy for rich Santa Monica NIMBYs to capture of its planning commission because there's no opposition. Santa Monica NIMBYs attempting to capture LA Metro would have to deal with all kinds of opposing communities from the rest of Metro's service region.

exactly. this is being done to fight the places that are blocking growth.

I think SB 827 is a wonderful idea. It allows for all those Californians who believe in increased immigration to put their beliefs into action. I would especially like to see more mass transit lines built in Southern California, particularly into areas like Santa Monica and Malibu. I think they need a communter line up the Malibu coast all the way to Ventura/Oxnard area and to build lots of high-density living in the Malibu area. I especially want high density living near the homes of guy like Rob Reiner. I think this is a great idea.

No one needs more than five feet of personal space, and we need to SMELL EACH OTHER'S FARTS and we don't need cars or LAWNS or closets!

I mean YOU don't.

I need a zero pool and five acres.

Hollywood Liberals

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