This was a controversial stance for a progressive politician whose ideological allies often prefer to blame profit-hungry landlords and absentee owners. The substance to make good on Newsom’s promise was to be found in Senate Bill 50, an ambitious proposal from Scott Wiener, a state senator from San Francisco with unimpeachable left-wing credentials. In essence, S.B. 50 would have preempted local restrictions on density within neighborhoods that are well served by public transportation or in close proximity to employment centers.
In a nod to political reality, Wiener and his allies softened some of the bill’s more controversial provisions as it made its way through the legislature. Both its supporters and detractors understood that the bill would have done a great deal to boost California’s housing stock over time. But the bill died in committee, sunk by anti-growth legislators who denounced it as a threat to local control.
When a bill to help the most vulnerable people in California fails, one can hardly blame Sacramento’s dwindling band of conservative legislators, because they are very much on the margins of the state’s political life. They can hardly muster the votes to name a park bench, let alone decide the fate of California’s housing regulations. As Michael Hendrix, also of Manhattan Institute, has observed, the real culprits are self-described progressives, such as Paul Koretz, who represents most of the west side of L.A. on the Los Angeles City Council and suggested that S.B. 50 would take his district’s neighborhoods of single-family homes and make them “look like Dubai in 10 years.”* Then, from the other side of town, Damien Goodmon, the president of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition, suggested that the potential gentrification of his neighborhood amounted to a “Twenty-first century Trail of Tears.”
I sympathize with Koretz’s and Goodmon’s devotion to the built environment they know and cherish. Many of the sprawling single-family neighborhoods of Los Angeles are quite beautiful. It is hardly surprising that they’d want to fight against what they perceive to be disruptive change. The trouble is that their resistance to one form of disruptive change, as represented by the gradual replacement of single-family homes with higher-density apartment buildings that could house many more families at far lower cost, is contributing to another form of disruptive change—the transformation of large swaths of Los Angeles into unsanitary homeless encampments, where women, men, and children are forced to spend much of their waking hours fending off vermin.
And what did Garcetti have to say about S.B. 50? Though he refused to sign a Los Angeles City Council resolution denouncing the bill, the mayor didn’t come out in favor of it either, choosing instead to triangulate. In an exchange with Liam Dillon of the Los Angeles Times, Garcetti suggested that while he favored allowing the construction of duplexes and triplexes in keeping with the character of existing single-family neighborhoods, which he claimed had the potential to boost the city’s housing supply by as much as 50 percent, he felt Wiener’s bill went much too far.
It was exactly the sort of statement one would expect from a shrewd politician. By touting the virtues of duplexes and triplexes, Garcetti sounded righteous without committing himself to anything concrete enough to anger the likes of Paul Koretz. Meanwhile, L.A.’s homelessness crisis rages on.
* This article originally stated that Paul Koretz represents West Hollywood on the Los Angeles City Council. In fact, he represents District Five. West Hollywood is a separate city.