California’s ongoing housing crisis isn’t just stirring up debate in Sacramento. Placer County residents who prefer a rural lifestyle are struggling with the reality that lawmakers are directly attacking their desired ways of life. California has a mandated policy known as the Housing Element and Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA). Passed in 1969, this mandate gives the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) the power to determine the number of housing units each area of the state needs, and to work with counties and cities to address these requirements by altering their general plans. HCD is mandating that Placer County add 1,634 additional housing units, or at least the zoning potential for them, by May 15, 2024.
Placer County is implementing the Housing Needs Rezone Program to abide by the state mandate.1 If the county refuses to implement the state recommended measures, the state could remove the county’s local permitting authority. The housing program will result in the rezoning of several parcels throughout the county to a newly created zone district, allowing for a minimum of 20 housing units per acre and a maximum of 30 units. This paves the way for developers to build duplexes, apartments, and multi-family townhouses. Land owners, however, are not required to build if their property gets rezoned.
So where do libertarians fit in all of this? Libertarians are the strongest advocates for property rights, so zoning laws in general are not our natural tools for problem solving. However, this particular zoning change appears to only increase the options of the land owners. From a consequentialist perspective, it is a gain in freedom of choice. On the other hand, it relies on top-down legislation from the state, and only strengthens the state’s control. Furthermore, Placer County residents who desire a smaller community see this housing program as an affront to their wishes. As libertarians, it is vital to find a way to speak to these concerns when advocating our positions.
One of the best approaches is to bring new facts to the conversation. One pertinent fact is that, since 1969, California experienced a 99% population increase while Placer County experienced a 444.7% increase.2 The world is certainly getting more crowded in certain areas more quickly than others, and this issue has been building below the surface for some time. The state mandates wont be going away any time soon, so if our local government doesn’t proactively find a way out of this, it appears these mandates will continue indefinitely.
This post was written by our Vice Chair, Richard Simms.