If You Don’t Build It, They Won’t Come

Restraining growth prevents a worsening in traffic congestion and promotes inflated house prices.

Russ Wetherill, May 24, 2014deforestation

This summarizes the philosophy of planning officials with regards to restraining population growth. This isn’t a new idea, and isn’t just limited to California. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea just because it enjoys broad acceptance. A fail to plan for projected growth is a plan to fail. We would probably have more success changing the gravitational pull of the sun, than we would have success in decreasing the terrestrial pull of a better lifestyle. Of course, if we make the lifestyle worse, then that should discourage all except those who have a worse lifestyle already; like those in third-world countries, for example (I’ll get to that later).

I remember growing up in Denver in the 70’s and 80’s and the terrible traffic and smog we had back then. The main north-south traffic artery is I-25, connecting the dozens of different cities along the Front Range. Expansion of this highway was held in check for more than a decade by Democratic Governor Bill Lamm in an attempt (failed) to prevent growth and preserve the low-population-density lifestyle. As more and more people came there in search of a better life, the lifestyle got progressively worse for both new arrivals and those already living there.[dfads params=’groups=4&limit=1&orderby=random’]

What was the response? To foment hatred of the new arrivals, because clearly that was the problem, soon a cottage industry of bumper stickers arose proclaiming the driver as a “Native.” There was even a backlash of “Alien” bumper stickers (no doubt sold by the same company).

Oddly enough, these bumper stickers were a response to the Californication of Colorado during the 70s and 80s as Californians moved out of crowded and expensive California. Transporting their California home equity to Colorado naturally drove up real estate prices there. I wonder if this is happening in Texas today? The combination of higher home prices and Californian’s inexperience in winter driving was just what the anti-growth movement needed as a scapegoat for clogged freeways.

I soon got tired of scraping my windows and sitting in 5 mile per hour traffic, so I moved to California in ’97. Talk about swimming upstream! The change in property values was shocking if not surprising. It was akin to swimming up a 1000 foot waterfall during spring runoff. Shortly after I left, they expanded I-25, and added a light-rail line, or two. At some point the problem becomes too large to ignore.California_real_estate_billionaire

The first thing California did to welcome me was hit me with a $550 car transfer tax. This is in 1997 dollars mind you. Some genius in Sacramento decided that there were too many cars being brought into the state from other states, and the best thing to do was to gin-up some type of economic barrier. Thankfully, this tax was deemed an 11th Amendment violation and I got my money back a couple years later.

Again, instead of dealing with the natural growth rate, politicians decided to sweep the whole thing under the rug. Spin. Spin until you win. The problem isn’t that we failed to plan for inter/intra-national immigration; the problem is that we have this immigration in the first place. So why not penalize people for moving here! As if the housing prices weren’t penalty enough. Prop 13 and Mello Roos spring from the same mindset: We were here first, get out!

I’ve had numerous conversations about Prop 13 and Mello Roos over the years, and the justification is always that “Native” Californians paid for the infrastructure and therefore shouldn’t have to pay as much in taxes. A valid argument, except for the fact that these long-term Prop 13ers, or 13ers for short, have also used that infrastructure, and in some cases used it up entirely. So, new inhabitants get the privilege of paying to repair and upgrade aging infrastructure and pay the lion’s share of the maintenance, to boot! All under the guise of fairness! The 13ers also fail to see that expansion is good for tax revenue, or perhaps they don’t (immigration is providing them an unlimited supply of golden eggs from horizon-to-horizon, at least the tax paying fowl – not the tax taking foul).

I find a slightly humorous and slightly outrageous juxtaposition between this policy of discouraging immigration and the Los Angeles sanctuary city policy. On the one hand we make it difficult, if not impossible, for intra-national immigrants to move from the lower forty-eight; and on the other hand, we create incentives for international immigration via H1b visas, and non-enforcement of federal immigration law.California_house_gold_mine

People ask why we don’t have affordable houses in Southern California for the working class? Well, there are about four million reasons, and they are all occupying the neighborhoods that used be considered middle-class. So high-class, middle-income families find themselves between a rock and a hard place; they inexplicably don’t want to raise their families in these Central American slums, and yet they can’t afford to live in the better areas thanks to a lack of new, affordable construction.

The result is a competition for declining public resources by a loosely integrated populace, with differing values, customs, and priorities. (Tip of the hat to the guy in the silver Lexus, I wasn’t trying to take your parking spot, really ☺, I just wanted to get by without waiting 5 minutes for the guy to vacate his spot). A time will come, probably sooner than later, when the sheep will realize the shepherd’s been feeding them to the wolves one-by-one. And the last sheep will bleat out a mournful refrain of “Where did everyone go?” We have to plan for a rational level of growth going forward backstopped by a reasonable method of funding. Any growth plan we currently have is humorous in its seriousness, and tragic in its stupidity.

Russ Wetherill

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