Elias: Finally, someone is slowing down the development of the wild lands
For decades, it’s been a truism of California life and politics: the more development spreads into once-wild land, the more damaging the ensuing wildfires and brush fires become.
This has resulted in tens of billions of dollars in damage and more than 100 lives lost over the past five years, as fire after fire destroys homes and cuts off escape routes.
But still, development continued virtually unabated. Until earlier this year, when a judge in sparsely populated Lake County ruled out a 16,000-acre luxury mixed-use project on land partly scorched by past fires and partly deemed likely to s ignite in the future.
More seriously, Lake County Superior Court Judge J. David Markham wrote in his landmark decision that the development could close or overload escape routes in the event of a fire, sentencing many people to death. , as happened in the 2018 Camp Fire in Butte County.
Markham also noted that parts of the land involved in the putative Maha Guenoc Valley project burned in 1952, 1953, 1963, 1976, 1980, 1996, 2006, 2014, 2015 and 2018.
It’s no surprise that such a historic decision comes in Lake County, which since 2012 has been the victim of the Cache Fire, the Clearlake Fire, the Ranch Fire portion of the Mendocino Complex, the Jerusalem Fire, Pawnee Fire, Valley Fire, LNU Lightning Complex Fire and August Complex Fire, which alone covered 1.032 million acres in Lake, Glenn, Mendocino counties , Tehama, Trinity and Shasta after originating as 38 separate fires.
The judge ruled in a lawsuit brought by state Attorney General Rob Bonta and several environmental groups saying the project could prove disastrous both for its own future residents and guests, but also for current residents of the region.
Lake County and the developer are therefore back to square one. This project will not happen unless it is scaled down, with major design changes and possibly more roads.
Other judges previously canceled smaller developments in San Diego and Los Angeles counties due to fire hazards, but it’s likely they will eventually go ahead, with some changes. The fate of the Lake County project is less certain.
What is certain is that every time a major fire burns down hundreds or thousands of homes, California’s dire housing shortage gets worse.
But state lawmakers aren’t even trying to be innovative or forward-looking about it. Their constant response to housing problems: more new developments.
That was the idea behind last year’s SB 9 and SB 10, which all but eliminated single-family zoning. They are now in effect, allowing virtually all lots in a current house to be divided, with six new units replacing the current one.
But these new laws require no new parking, no new water supplies, no new school buildings, no traffic calming – none of the measures that developers of new lanes have had to provide over the past few decades.
The only way to stop these laws allowing massive amounts of new, piecemeal housing to become permanent is to qualify a ballot initiative currently in circulation for the November ballot and pass it, thereby deferring local decisions on the use of land to municipal councils and locally elected county supervisors.
State lawmakers, many of whose campaigns are funded largely by developers, assiduously ignore the rapidly expanding vacancies in office buildings across the state.
These are created when white-collar workers in law firms, insurance companies, brokerages and many other concerns turn to working from home, as happened en masse when the coronavirus pandemic coronavirus started two years ago.
Now much of the California workforce is saying they will continue to work from home indefinitely, and big companies from Google to Twitter to Hulu are saying OK. Meetings and conversations are taking place virtually, and employers say efficiency hasn’t suffered much, if at all.
Some conversion of office space left vacant by all this has already begun. But it has to happen on a much larger scale if you really want to start the housing problem.
Maybe, just maybe, the increasing difficulty of building near the convergence of wild lands and urban sprawl will force lawmakers to automate OKs for much cheaper conversions, even if it means less profit for their promoter bosses.
Email Thomas Elias at [email protected].