Culver City Observer -

Remarks by Alex Fisch at January 28 Special Meeting

 

The question this evening is whether we will

embark on a year-long path of outreach and

study to determine how to create missing middle

housing throughout our city in a way that

preserves what we love about our respective

neighborhoods, or whether we will kill the very

idea of change right now for just one specific type

of neighborhood. Fundamentally, we will decide

tonight whether we are going to use the General

Plan to reinforce once again the wall that was

built around some Culver City neighborhoods by

segregationists many decades ago. We are doing

this in face of almost certain state preemption

on this exact question, which very likely will be

effective on January 1, 2022.

The meeting on this topic has been a microcosm

of what has been happening for 50 years

in every successful coastal city in the country.

The result of this process, repeated across 472

California municipalities for far too many housing

proposals has been incalculable human misery-

-rent burden, displacement, perpetuation of racial

disparities, soul crushing commutes, planet

burning auto dependency, entire exurban towns

consumed by wildland fires--social and economic

impacts so severe that Democratic presidential

candidates across the ideological spectrum

included proposals to encourage an end to exclusionary

zoning in their platforms. The White

House has even proposed an incentive program

for cities to eliminate exclusionary zoning.

This consensus is unsurprising. Calls to pare

back exclusionary zoning rules have appeared

repeatedly over the last 3 years in the pages of

the nation's most trusted newspapers. I also call

your attention to the "Blueprint for More Housing

2020" by the League of California Cities, which

is an association that lobbies for cities and local

control. The League released its Blueprint after it

opposed a variety of state housing bills in recent

years, and in it the League commits that "cities

will take immediate actions to help spur production."

It specifies that "the League . . . supports

requiring cities to take some of the following immediate

actions . . . designed to help spur housing

production [including] Allow up to fourplexes

in single-family zones."

org/Resources-Documents/News/News/2020/

Housing-Production-Proposal-Factsheet.aspx>

I understand that this is a very personal and

important issue to everyone here. We're talking

about home. I respect concerns about privacy,

aesthetics, and parking. But I also think that we

can address these concerns while affirmatively

furthering fair housing, increasing affordability

and access to opportunity, reducing our city's

per capita climate footprint, making even better

neighborhoods, enhancing the city's ability to

invest in its public realm, and getting ahead of

state preemption of land use.

Let's talk about Affirmatively Furthering Fair

Housing. It's been federal law for more than 50

years, but the promise of desegregation remains

unfulfilled. More than 80% of US cities are more

segregated today than they were in 1990. California

recently stepped up and made affirmatively

furthering fair housing a requirement of state

law, and our housing element has to explain how

we will do it. California Department of Housing

and Community Development has specified in its

"Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing: Guidance

for All Public Entities and for Housing Elements

(April 2021 Update)" that affirmatively furthering

fair housing includes "promoting housing supply,

choices and affordability in areas of high opportunity

and outside of areas of concentrated poverty"

such as by providing for "[z]oning, permit streamlining,

fees, incentives and other approaches to

increase housing choices and affordability (e.g.,

duplex, triplex, multifamily, accessory dwelling

units, transitional and supportive housing, group

homes) in high opportunity areas."

http://www.hcd.ca.gov/community-development/affh/

docs/affh_document_final_4-27-2021.pdf> The

Director of HCD, Gustavo Velasquez, left little

confusion about this issue at a recent workshop

regarding our obligation to affirmatively further

fair housing, stating that "single family zoning

today has replaced race-based zoning from the

recent past."

status/1404865577848508419>

It was only a few days later, as part of a series

of Juneteenth announcements, that the

White House called on cities to reform exclusionary

zoning because such practices impose

unnecessary housing cost burdens, reduce

labor mobility, create measurable and escalating

racial disparities in measurable outcomes,

and contribute to the racial wealth gap.

http://www.whitehouse.gov/cea/blog/2021/06/17/exclusionary-

zoning-its-effect-on-racial-discrimination-

in-the-housing-market/>

I was pleased to hear supportive testimony

last week from the Inner City Law Center. Legalizing

missing middle housing can be complicated

in neighborhoods that are majority nonwhite or

have historically experienced disinvestment, but

in a relatively affluent enclave, the missing middle

expands opportunity.

Finally, we've had a couple of land use reform

skeptics reference the Homes Guarantee

by Data for Progress as a good plan for us to

review. The very first policy recommendation of

the Homes Guarantee is to "replace exclusionary

zoning with equitable zoning." It describes our

existing zoning regime and states as follows:

Remedying this travesty begins with ending

exclusionary zoning and replacing it with equitable

zoning. Equitable zoning would evolve single-

family-only neighborhoods into economically

integrated communities with diverse "Missing

Middle" home options by allowing the following

housing types anywhere a single-unit house can

be built:

• Duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes,

• Townhomes and rowhouses,

• Garden apartments, cottage clusters, and other

low-rise apartments

"Missing Middle" housing derives its name

from the underserved space between single-unit

buildings and high-rise buildings. However, the

name also aptly describes its role in offering stable

housing to the increasingly endangered middle

and working classes.

for_all.pdf>

That's a good segue to talk about affordability.

The question of what is affordable comes up

all the time. There is subsidized affordable housing,

which is created through specific affordable

development projects with complicated financing

programs and there is affordable housing created

through inclusionary zoning, which requires

that a portion of new multifamily housing be subsidized

by market rate renters in the same building.

Both categories of homes are restricted by

income and do not serve middle class households.

There is also the broader concept of affordability:

simply "what can a household afford."

In that regard, the brand new $1.4 million fourplex

homes on one of the city's finest streets, which one

commenter told us about today, are more affordable,

and affordable to more households, than the $3-4 million

detached home that a local realtor testified last

Wednesday would be build on an equivalent lot located

in an R1 zone. Are we going to be a city where, as of

today, only people with $600,000 for a downpayment

can buy a home in more than 50% of our residential

land?

There is a report from November 2019 called "Affordable

housing in Los Angeles: Delivering more-

and doing it faster." The report is worth reading because

it identifies that cities can meet the affordable

housing component of this RHNA cycle in two ways:

through public financing and through market-driven developments

with set-asides for affordable homes.

Meeting 100 percent of the county's affordable

housing goal through public financing of standard units

alone would require more than $130 billion over the

next eight-year RHNA cycle. (Just comparing population,

that would be $520 million for Culver City.) The

alternative is taking steps to achieve a portion of this

goal through privately financed homebuilding. The report

then identifies strategies that, if combined, would

fund 45% of the total affordable housing needed without

public money. Among these strategies, the report

identifies conversion of existing detached homes into

duplexes, triplexes, or four-plexes. These renovations

can be completed more quickly and at a significantly

lower cost than building from the ground up, and

could immediately support rents as low as $1,500

per month, which is affordable to moderate-income

households. The report also proposes legalizing bungalow

courts on parcels currently zoned for detached

homes. The report concludes that such a bungalow

court could support rents of $1,000 per month, which

would be affordable to a low-income household. The

report specifically notes that these projects "are more

likely to be undertaken by small developers or individual

homeowners with minimal capital and risk appetite.

Cities can further reduce risk by releasing permit-ready

plans."

Industries/Public%20and%20Social%20Sector/

Our%20Insights/Affordable%20housing%20in%20

Los%20Angeles%20delivering%20more%20and%20

doing%20it%20faster/MGI-Affordable-housing-in-Los-

Angeles-Full-report-vF.pdf>

Finally, I need to talk about infill development and

the climate, because that's a core part of what drew me

to study housing in economically successful coastal

cities. The expert consensus that just land use reform

is essential to achieving our climate goals is no less

robust than the expert consensus that our atmosphere

is heating up, that our greenhouse gas emissions are

responsible for the heating, and that every bit we can

do to stop emitting greenhouse gases will make the

future less dire.

At the moment, our land use policies are undoing

the gains that we are making in decarbonizing our energy

sector. The California Air Resources Board issued

a report a couple years ago finding that California

is not on track to meet the greenhouse gas reductions

to which we have committed by law, and the problem

is the growth in single-occupancy vehicle travel that

comes with mostly adding housing in California's wildland-

urban interface (which is increasingly difficult to

protect from fire and increasingly costly to insure). The

Air Resources Board summed up the entire issue succinctly:

Historic patterns of growth continue to shape the

state today. While California has grown to be the fifth

largest economy in the world, with world-class cities

and thriving communities, its residents, in search of an

affordable place to live, and with insufficient transportation

options, are too often left with little choice but to

spend significant time and money driving from place

to place. The way we grow also imposes and often reinforces

long-standing racial and economic injustices

by placing a disproportionate burden on low-income

residents, who end up paying the highest proportion

of their wages for housing and commuting. These

residents also often live in communities with the most

health impacts from lack of active transportation infrastructure

and transportation pollution. The greatest

burden of health impacts in the state are from chronic

diseases related to lack of physical activity, which

would be significantly improved by more walking, cycling,

and public transit use.

In this way, growth patterns have a profound impact

on both the health of individuals and the environment.

Where jobs are located and homes are built, and what

roads, bike lanes, and transit connect them, create the

fabric of life. How regions grow impacts where people

can afford to live, how long it takes to get to work, how

people travel, who has easy access to well-paying jobs

and educational opportunities, the air people breathe,

whether it is easy to spend time outdoors and with

friends, social cohesion and civic engagement, and

ultimately, how long people live.

Final2018Report_SB150_112618_02_Report.pdf>

Legalizing missing middle will help change that. It

is not by itself a magic bullet, but we cannot address

many of our problems without first curbing exclusionary

zoning. More people will have close access to Culver

City's enviable amenities, including our comfortable

climate, which will be even more important as heating

in inland areas creates climate refugees. That statement

might be shocking or seem ridiculous, but California

already has climate refugees. Just look at rents

and homelessness in the Chico area after the climate

change-fueled destruction of the town of Paradise.

In any event, you can see the positive climate impact

of legalizing missing middle housing at coolclimate.

berkeley.edu, which has a tool showing the most

impactful policies that a local government can enact.

Two of the top four policies are advanced by legalizing

the missing middle.

So, colleagues, while the public will have a year or

more to weigh in on the important details, it is time for

us to pick a side. We can and must spend the time

to craft rules that bring developers under control and

ensure quality buildings. I support preapproved neighborhood-

sensitive designs. That's not hard. But the

more we do to address opportunity, affordability, and

resilience in this general plan, the more our children

and grandchildren will thank us. I know that a substantial

portion of the attendees don't believe or care about

a word I've just said, but they'll believe you. And, if

you've been attending conferences, panels, and seminars

about cities, housing, justice, and climate, you

know that everything I've said is true.

There was a candidate panel some time ago

where one of you endorsed small lot subdivisions. I

was impressed at the recognition of the problem and

the courageous endorsement of one possible part of

a solution, but I didn't think that the evidence or public

awareness was sufficient to support any proposal

touching exclusionary zoning in Culver City at the time.

The situation is different today. I am not asking you to

endorse any specific program today, but I am asking

you to help me maintain the last bits of a middle class

in this city. Please help me make this city a better,

more accessible, more sustainable place, and help me

explain over the next year why we must legalize missing

middle housing to do that

 

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