The Plight of the Californian People in an Era of High Density Development

The Plight of the Californian People in an Era of High Density Development

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Kimo Gandall, Fiscal Policy Associate Editor

The 2016 Presidential elections saw a transformative movement; indeed, millions of citizens voted against globalization, irresponsible and exploitative economic policy, and most of all, to “Make America Great Again.” 

But what has been happening to America that would cause such a backlash? The answer, in part, is simple: shifts in development. The American people are being forgotten, and in exchange, a deepening, and seemingly unstoppable, process of globalization is sweeping the world. 

Operating off the mentality of, “growth for purpose of growth,” state-mandated policies of high density development have pushed cities in California to build ‘low income housing.’ In 2016, in defiance of state law, the city of Huntington Beach, amongst others, refused to build this ‘low income’ housing, resulting in backlash by the state government. Despite these efforts, the high density movement continues, and much like a cancer growing without purpose, swells and blisters without constraint. However, to fight the cancer, one must first understand why high density is harmful in the first place. Low income, high-density development is extremely harmful in 4 ways. 

First, high density development greatly increases the cost of living. Empirical evidence indicates that ‘progressive development,’ such as the construction of large apartment buildings, or light rail, has a strong positive relationship with land values. The process itself is almost paradoxical; while more housing does indicate a larger supply on the market, the development has the opposite effect of increasing the number of buyers in the city, creating spillover in the marketplace, thus resulting in higher land prices. While this may be a temporary gain for landowners, for the majority of citizens this process results in both drastically increased rental and food prices; overall, this burden, in some cases, represents up to a 53% increase in expenses.  This process, known as gentrification, has several other serious implications; studies show that gentrification can significantly increase crime, displace citizens, and even damage the health of those affected. And this situation is not isolated; indeed, a multitude of case studies have shown this process occurring in large cities, such as LondonManhattan, and Portland. The magnitude of this process is stunning, with almost 20% of citizens in the United States facing the detriments of this process daily. Finally, the cost becomes apparent to established citizens in the form of transportation; as population increases, the space for parking becomes gradually more scarce, creating increased difficulties for residents. 

Second, not only does high density impoverish the citizens currently living in the city, but it also invites external poverty. While many studies have yet to empirically confirm this assertion, the inherency of the state’s plan seems to indicate such an outcome; after all, if one is to mandate 500 low income apartments, the tenants likely moving into those buildings are also likely low income. This, in effect, results in increased levels of poverty in communities. The impact is 3 fold; first, communities suffering from high density development expect large hikes in crime, as poor citizens disportionately commit high levels of crime. This, as the Bureau of Justice Statistics explains, manifests itself not only as domestic crime, but also violent crime. In short, our neighborhoods go from quiet family homes to bustling havens of crime. Secondly, impoverished individuals have a significantly higher probability of committing substance abuse, with many studies beginning to indicate a causal relationship between the two variables. Such individuals also faced increased probability of health complication arising out of their lifestyle, resulting the clogging of local health infrastructure. Finally, the community at large becomes victim to surges in vice; indeed, empirical confirm that impoverished individuals both have a higher probability of engaging in vices (such as prostitution) and being victimized by them (human trafficking). Thus, quiet communities quickly descend from tranquility to chaos. 

Thirdly, high density development represents a fiscal liability to cities. Empirical studies strongly confirm this; in a meta-analysis of data from 247 country areas, researchers found that, on net, high density development placed fiscal burdens on established residents through both decreased qualities of service and increased cost of living, while also forcing government officials to significantly increase public sector spending to accommodate growing population groups. Furthermore, these costs materialize as a large impact on capital outlays, frequently resulting in cities being forced to either leverage higher taxes, or decrease the quality of public services; thus, in many ways, cities are forced to indirectly subsidize the construction of these projects, both through increased capital outlays, and a growth in public spending levels. In beach cities such as Huntington Beach, the costs have materialized as a 66% growth in the public safety budget, and a $2.2 million to Huntington Beach’s $344 million budget, $36 million of which will allocated to repairing roads. This doesn’t include the increased expenditures needed to be made in 2017 to accommodate wider roads. And although many contend that increased revenues and taxes can cover these expenditures, Huntington Beach helps support such a massive budget through oil revenues, which make up nearly $1 million of revenue in the budget. Historical benefits have also helped Huntington Beach shrug off the burden of high density, with the city currently controlling an investment budget of $200 million. Thus, while cities like Huntington Beach can ignore many of the current costs, once the oil disappears, and economy slumps, and pension payers come to call, Huntington Beach, and other beach cities, may cease to exist as we know it. 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, high density development destroys the cultural values of cities. Growth must not come at the expense of the cultural soul of a city; such an effect disillusions established residents, and creates a disconnected society. Indeed, the small quaint beach homes in cities such as Huntington Beach are becoming towering apartments, built with a Soviet mentality: squeeze as many people into the sardine-can inspired apartment rooms as possible. The commercial values similarly reflected; replace the unique flavor of the small mom-and-pop shops with the ubiquity of corporate industrial standard. Quality? No. Profits? Yes.

This is perhaps the most evident change recognized by citizens of cities undergoing such transformations; and as the transformation ignores the people, a growing discontent will become prevalent in these areas. As policies that leave behind citizens grow, so will the anti-development movements that seek to protect their communities and cultures. 

Follow this author on Twitter @Kimo_Gandall

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