INCITE
Incite -- (v) 1: give an incentive; 2: provoke or stir up; "incite a riot"; 3: urge on; cause to act
Thursday, June 09, 2005

 
California - the most conservative state in the Union?
Written by: Dave

Some time ago, I promised to explain why California is actually the most conservative state in the Union. True to my word, I will now attempt to do just that.

Before going further though, we need to disregard some things, the first being our present-day definitions of Conservative and Liberal. You’ll notice that I said California was the nation’s most ‘small c’ conservative state. That was an important distinction.

Most of us recognize that conservative and liberal become relative terms when applied across different societies and cultures. So for my definition of conservative, I am going to go back in history to conservatism’s Anglo-Saxon roots, when the notion of a conservative, that is, a Tory, was first formulated.

The original conservatives emerged in 17th and 18th Century England. They mostly consisted of landed gentry who wanted to preserve the social structure of old England. In effect, they wanted to ensure that land remained the primary source of wealth and power, to limit those who could enter into the landed ranks, and to make the lower classes dependent on their largesse.

So what do they have in common with the good citizens of California? Well lately, many California home owners seem to share these same goals.

The real estate boom in California has effectively priced out middle class citizens who don’t already own a home. This isn’t an accident. Local and state politics have created road blocks which effectively make it impossible to keep up housing supply with housing demand. The results would satisfy even the crustiest old 18th Century English Tory; those with land (i.e. homes) grow increasingly wealthy as their property prices skyrocket, and those without land (i.e. homes) must either rent or engage in risky financing schemes to afford a home.

So, you might ask, what have these California “conservatives” done to create this effect? Well, let’s first look at the local level. Any developer that tries to build new housing in California, particularly in L.A. or the Bay Area, faces an incredibly difficult approval process due to opposition from NIMBY’s (i.e., Not In My Back Yarders). These are area residents who adamantly oppose any new development which would in any way affect their neighborhood. They want everything to remain exactly as it is, complaining about everything from increased traffic to longer lines at their local Starbucks (true example). And the worst possible thing these NIMBY’ers can imagine, gosh forbid, is that an apartment building or other high density project be built near their neighborhood of single family homes - because you know what type of people live in those.

The NIMBY’ers have become an incredibly powerful political force in California, and legislation and political decisions reflect this power, much to the detriment of housing supplies.

Adding to the problem are environmentalists who have succeeded in getting stricter and stricter environmental regulations imposed on development. Ironically enough, these environmental standards are now so onerous that often times it is prohibitively difficult even to do urban projects. This is especially ironic since increasing density in urban areas is the best method of reducing development in rural areas.

Lawsuits are another method Californians use to extract wealth from their property. In particular, lawsuits brought by condo owners against condominium developers have gotten so out of control that many architects and contractors refuse to work on any residential projects. The resulting risk of lawsuits drives condo prices even higher as developers price in the cost and hassle of the expected legal action. As a result, condos become unaffordable to even middle class residents.

Meanwhile, continuing their parallels to those 18th Century Tories, many California home owners manage to increase the dependency of the lower classes by supporting legislation that forces developers to build a certain amount of “affordable housing” in every development. As you might guess, developers that are forced to build housing that is sold at below market prices must still make a profit. The result is that they increase the prices of their market rate housing, helping make it impossible for the lower classes to ever acquire any property except through these government mandated affordable housing programs.

-----------

With all that said, I’d have to say I am a moderate where most of these issues are concerned. I believe in the right of residents to oppose new developments which will effect their property values. I understand that some new developments are incongruous with and harmful to their surroundings. I recognize that many condo developers deserve to be sued. And I recognize that environmental safeguards must protect against irresponsible development.

The problem is that California is not behaving moderately, but instead is acting like a raging 18th Century English conservative, or a modern day American Liberal, which in this specific case at least, seems to mean pretty much the same thing.


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