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Another NIMBY Triumph

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Farhad Manjoo is appropriately unsparing about California’s SB 50 getting killed in the state Senate:

The bill had garnered support from a diverse coalition of business and advocacy groups, and its sponsor, State Senator Scott Wiener, had negotiated a series of compromises with some of its fiercest opponents. Polls showed the measure to be widely popular. For the first time, something extraordinary looked possible: California’s wealthy homeowners would abandon their restrictionist attitudes and let us build some new housing.

Nope. Instead, Anthony Portantino, a Democratic state senator whose district includes the posh city of La Cañada Flintridge and who heads the appropriations committee, announced that he’d be shelving the bill until next year. In an interview with The Los Angeles Times, he worried that the law would spur lots of people to move near residential bus routes, which he suggested would alter the character of enclaves like his.

And? Why is that so bad?

Reading opposition to SB 50 and other efforts at increasing density, I’m struck by an unsettling thought: What Republicans want to do with I.C.E. and border walls, wealthy progressive Democrats are doing with zoning and Nimbyism. Preserving “local character,” maintaining “local control,” keeping housing scarce and inaccessible — the goals of both sides are really the same: to keep people out.

“We’re saying we welcome immigration, we welcome refugees, we welcome outsiders — but you’ve got to have a $2 million entrance fee to live here, otherwise you can use this part of a sidewalk for a tent,” said Brian Hanlon, president of the pro-density group California Yimby. “That to me is not being very welcoming. It’s not being very neighborly.”

The fact that NIMBY arguments so frequently resort to the same pretexts used by segregationists is…not accidental. Admittedly, when the alternative is stuff like “but if you allow people to build dense housing around mass transit stations they might actually build dense housing for people who want to live near transit stations and these might be FOUR STORY buildings that CAST SHADOWS” you’re probably better off sticking with vacuous abstractions.

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