California officials have been obsessed this year about the ongoing housing crisis, as home prices soar out of reach of most of the state’s residents and as rent prices consume an ever-greater portion of people’s incomes. Absurdly high housing costs — driven by local growth controls and burdensome state regulatory requirements — are the main reason that California has the nation’s highest cost-of-living-adjusted poverty rate, at around 20 percent.
In a normal place, lawmakers would respond by pre-empting local growth restrictions, reforming a state law (the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA) that makes it too easy for no-growth types to mire housing projects in years of litigation, and paring back some of the regulations that add as much as 40 percent of the cost of every new housing unit built. They might even think about reducing the tax and bond burdens that drive up housing payments.
But this is California, so perish such thoughts. Instead, the Legislature recently killed a high-profile bill that would have granted developers “by right” approval to build higher-density housing around transit stations, which would have boosted housing supply in urban areas. And — grabbing headlines this week — the non-elected California Energy Commission voted unanimously on Wednesday to force virtually all new housing to include solar panels beginning in 2020.
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