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Study: NIMBYism Makes States More Liberal

A coalition of left-wing interest groups appears to have killed California Governor Jerry Brown’s plan to cut back on land use regulations so as to allow the state’s housing supply to catch up with surging demand. The Los Angeles Times reports:

An effort led by Gov. Jerry Brown to streamline housing production for developments that include units for low-income residents appears to be finished for the year, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) said.

Brown’s proposal had faced strenuous opposition from influential labor and environmental groups, which had wanted higher wages for construction workers and were upset that the plan allowed projects to bypass some review under the state’s main environmental law governing development. A coalition of 60 labor, environmental and community advocacy groups walked away from negotiations over the plan last week.

Many of the results of this NIMBY victory are predictable: Rents will continue to rise faster than inflation; upper-middle class communities will continue to pull the ladder up for upwardly-mobile young families; and the state’s economy will continue to be artificially suppressed because it is difficult for workers without means to move places where the job market is hot.

But California’s failure to curb its overweening land use regulations might also have another, less obvious, consequence: It could make the state even more homogeneously Democratic than it already is. According to a recent study from Jason Sorens of Dartmouth University (h/t Tyler Cowen), states’ land use regulations don’t just affect their economies; they affect their political complexions as well. In particular, Republicans seem to leave states as they tighten their zoning laws:

High cost of living deters in-migration of lower-income households, especially those that do not highly value amenities. Holding median household income constant, higher-cost locations will tend over time to attract and keep households that highly value amenities. It is hypothesized that these households will be more Democratic. Accordingly, raising residential building requirements in high-amenity areas should cause those areas to move gradually to the left.

In other words, Democrats, on balance, seem to be willing to pay a higher premium to live in heavily zoned communities, while Republicans would rather live somewhere with fewer amenities at lower cost. Sorens doesn’t determine why this is, but it’s possible to speculate: Perhaps Republicans are more likely to homeschool and therefore less concerned with school quality; perhaps they are more likely to drive and less concerned with public transportation; perhaps they place less value on a community being “environmentally friendly.”

Regardless of the precise mechanism, Sorens’ study drives home an important point: Coastal blue state NIMBYs aren’t just exacerbating segregation by income; they are exacerbating segregation by political affiliation as well. These patterns continue in a vicious cycle, and America keeps coming apart.

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  • dwk67

    The compulsion to cocoon oneself from the real world consequences of one’s beliefs is arguably the defining trait of a liberal today. Sadly the money that enables all this was the creation of a much more conservative and reality-based society than presently exists. Our forefathers bequeathed us so much, yet the modern left views them as being about as intellectually sophisticated as the typical Hee Haw rerun viewer due to the strong influence of Christianity upon their beliefs and actions.

  • CaliforniaStark

    The assumptions made in this article are total rubbish. In general, in Southern California the determinant of how a particular area votes is based on income, not zoning. Some of the strongest advocates for preservation of existing zoning and land-use patterns are Republicans; and likewise, as are many of those in the development industry who advocate for increased density — many of whom live in very high income areas, that not surprisingly are excluded from areas that are suggested to have up-zoned.

    As others with past involvement in planning in California have stated on this board; there are areas in coastal California cities that would benefit from redevelopment and increased density. Those in community planning, who this article abuses by calling NIMBYs, support redevelopment in these areas. The developers do not focus on these areas, but instead seek higher density in established neighborhoods. The people who should be honored are the urban pioneers that came in over the years and made these neighborhoods nicer, not those who wise to make a quick profit at the original residents expense. New development should be targeted to areas that need redevelopment, and along transit corridors to allow new residents to have additional mobility options besides driving on already crowded highways and roads.

    • 415woman

      Where does San Francisco fit here? I don’t see that bastion of Republicanism increasing density or working to reduce home prices or rent.

    • Johnathan Swift Jr.

      Your response is what is rubbish. There are precious few Republicans, let alone conservative Republicans in any of the areas where these issues arise in Coastal California. This is where some of the grand plans of the left are now coming into conflict with the newly wealthy members of their coalition, pitting the wealthier against the merely successful. There are plenty of actual facts, those stubborn facts, to illustrate the left’s dominance in Coastal California listed below.

      The left is who is pushing increased density, but especially in lower Middle Class and Middle Class areas but seldom in the gilded climes of influence. Dame Nancy is not about to take in any of those Syrian refugees, let alone a real San Franciscan with dripping-down-the-leg-dysentery – you know, the ones that San Francisco’s infamous “poop app” was designed for. So, as Middle Class areas become wealthy, conflicts arise, because somewhere the left’s pet servant class has to be housed, so that someone is around to take care of their gilded offspring, clean the house and make sure the caviar is in the fridge and the champagne is on ice when they get home from a hard day at the keyboard. So, most of these struggles are now intramural, with the Alpha Deltas arguing with the Zeta Psis.

      In newly “gentrified” areas, which are almost exclusively the stomping ground of the left, the connected class, except for a few hipsters hanging on for dear life, those who have scored big on rising home prices do not want to see anything that may prevent the big retirement pay day, when they take their pot of gold and move to a rural area. Thus, they are pricing the Dependent Class out, then in favor of policies that will keep them at arm’s length from their moral superiors. A computer engineer doesn’t may love the EBT/Section 8 Cycle in theory because they need those votes, but he doesn’t want to actually see it in action.

      It is the left who wants to turn Hollywood, for example, into a high rise “paradise” for the middle class and lower middle class. The left has long been obsessed with urbanism and the dedicated enemy of “sprawl,” and what they see as brain-dead suburbs, that are “inefficient,” where people may be out from under their moral superior’s thumb some of the time. Most Republicans like suburbs, they like large lots, land around houses, places where there is some privacy and space. They like to see intact families, two-parent families raising children in a more healthy atmosphere, away from people pissing everywhere, shooting up, having sex au natural to the tune of their blaring car stereos and fighting over parking places (yes, I have seen all of these things hundreds of time with my own yes living in the heart of one of the most exclusive parts of urban Los Angeles.) The left lives to combat things like two parent families and suburbs with space, except sometimes for their own families for some strange reason.

      The left has long wanted to see as many Americans as possible living in extremely dense urban areas, dotted with little parks, all connected with subways, whooshing monorails and cling-clanging light rail, then connected to the rest of the high rise urban paradises by a network of slick bullet trains with the latest 1970s technology. I have yet to meet a bullet-train obsessed conservative. Bullet-train mania is a disease that only seems to strike those who are left of center, though there are surely some registered Republicans who will try to get in on the billions of dollars in grifting and graft that comes with such nonsense like tunneling through mountains.

      The mayors and city councils, virtually all Democrats, are in league with the developers in places like Hollywood and in building yet another round of public housing for their urban dependents, but of course, once it comes to the most expensive areas, then their overlords, again card carrying Democrats for the most part, all bets are off. They hate “sprawl” and “suburbs” and living space except for the overlords, who will be always be allowed to wall themselves off from the rest of the hoi polloi. That is why Lord Zukie of Palo Alto is tearing down all the nearby houses and walling himself off, just as he has in Hawaii. He is all for H1 Indentured Servants and open borders, where MS13 members and Drug Cartel contract killers cross the border with impunity, but he wants to keep his precious wife and child away from the reality of his polices. Illegal alien murderers for the rest of us, just not for Cheryl or Markie. The hand’s off policy for the Connected Class is why increasingly the urban poor and restless are being shifted to the suburbs, places where there are still some GOP voters to punish, because of course rich leftists in Santa Monica or Marin want to be as far from the dependent class they love to much as humanly possible.

      In California statewide 43.9% of the registered voters are Democrats, 28.9% Republicans, a + 15% edge statewide, which is intensified in the areas under discussion. In San Francisco County, perhaps the most intense area of discussion when in comes to California housing, it is 55.6% for the Democrats and 8.6% or +47.0% for the Democrats, so good luck with the notion that those dirty, low-down, lying dog Republicans have any appreciable effect on policy. It has about the most one-sided voting imaginable. In Santa Cruz County it is 54%-16.5 or +37%. Mendocino: 46.4-21.7 or +24.7. Marin: 54.4-18.2 or +36.2. Contra Costa: 49.6-24.8 or +24.8%. Alameda: 54.4-14.1% or +42.3%. Monterey: 51.7-24.2 or + 27.5% Napa: 46.4-26.8% or +26.8% San Mateo: 51.3%-19.4 or 31.9%. Santa Clara: 45.6-21.7% or + 23.9% Los Angeles: 51.1-21.6 or +29.5%. So the edge in very expensive, built-up, overcrowded area of California is on the Democrat’s side. They run virtually every city government in these areas, as well as dominate county government, thus they set the agendas and the polices.

      I don’t know where you live in California, if you live there, but I spent much of my life there. I worked with the type of people in question. Having dealt with high wealth individuals in my working career in Bel Air, Beverly Hills, Holmby Hills, Hidden Valley, Hidden Hills, Santa Monica, West Los Angeles, West Hollywood in the Southland and in places like Atherton, Woodside, Los Altos Hills, Belvedere, San Francisco, Marin, Sonoma, Carmel, Monterey, Pebble Beach in the North, as well as on the Central Coast where my father lived, I know the political make-up quite well.

      I worked and lived among the wealthy on the West Side of Los Angeles, keeping my own more conservative politics out of the discussion unless I knew the person was of a like mind. I have attended parties and fund raisers with hundreds of millionaires and billionaires and heard their views on countless subjects. I can tell you the vast majority of them were left of center, from center-left business people to far left, “loony left” Hollywood figures. Republicans are an endangered species in California and especially in the more expensive zip codes. They exist, but the ratio of Democrats to Republicans within them is so significant as to render the GOP as an impotent force in urban California. The leading Old Wealth families of America are virtually all solidly in Hillary’s corner. Those with wealth and the ability to borrow cheaply have made a killing under Obama, a killing. Somehow, the polices of this dedicated class warrior, this enemy of the wealth gap has turbocharged and supercharged inequality, which has helped fuel California’s housing crisis, for the Obama economy is great for the silicon rich Investor Class, but awful for Maim Street.

      So, the idea that Republicans drive any part of the agenda is preposterous, their ranks are significant only in the outlying areas and the suburbs and in rural California, where they have majorities in many counties.

      • Jim__L

        Ever been south of Long Beach? What there is of the GOP in coastal California is concentrated in OC and San Diego.

        That said, you’ve got some very good points here, and some good phrases — “Maim Street” indeed, under Obama.

        • Johnathan Swift Jr.

          I have been to every major city in California, as well as most of the small towns, same for most of the United States as I take long driving trips of 5,000 – 10,000 miles in my near dotage. So, yes, I am quite familiar with Orange County where the Democrats are now just -10, a large shift from my youth. San Diego County is now almost even, with 35% GOP and 33.9% Democrats, with the city now shifted, again a vast change from my youth. But this is a discussion of NIMBY and the battles over density and development, most have which have been over projects in San Francisco and the Bay Area, San Jose and the Silicon Valley and the Los Angeles Basin, thus my concentration on those areas.

          San Diego has a population density of 4,000 people per square mile and about 600 in the County, thus it is not ground zero in this debate. San Diego still consists of some apartment buildings and thousands of suburban-style single family homes, with some similar suburbs, then much larger plots of land in the tony suburbs to the North. Even La Jolla, where I first spent time in my childhood, expensive La Jolla, had about 3,000 people per square mile. Meanwhile, San Francisco has a population density of 17,000 per square mile, which is why this it is ground zero in these NIMBY battles. West Hollywood is at an epic 18,000 per square mile, Berkeley 10,000 and Santa Monica, 10,000. Meanwhile, Palo Alto, where they are at an average home price of about $2,500,000 if memory serves, has a population density of 2,500 and that is where Zukerberg and company want to keep it. Rich, exclusive and suburban. What they need in the Valley is some land for a dense urban village for their serfs and H1 vassals, but there seems to be no where to put it.

          I used to take some of my wealthy friends on tours of the real Los Angeles, the places none of them had ever even ventured, the barrios, the ghettos and the suburbs where the millions of illegal aliens have settled. The largest number of the most dense American cities are the ones where the illegals have landed in Los Angeles, but none of my left leaning friends have ever been to any of them. When I was young I lived in the Barrio and worked in the Ghetto, so I got to know all these forgotten areas, Huntington Park, Cudahy, Bell, Bell Gardens, Hawaiian Gardens, places like that, all of which rank near the top in population density. Because these are not on the radar of the rich and connected, there is little discussion of these suburbs at all.

          • Jim__L

            No offense meant, no offense meant.

            I was going to UCI when they closed El Toro, and it was a big deal when the GOP neighborhoods that were (up until then) in the Crash Hazard Zone decided to resist (and defeat) a very practical proposal to turn the place into an airport, seeing as it already had the heavy-duty, long runways capable of handling the big trans-Pacific planes. LAX and John Wayne were held to be at capacity already, another reason that another airport would have made a lot of sense.

            So, Stark’s post rang pretty true to me, from my strong impressions of the area. Maybe I need to start talking in terms of “vast change[s] from my youth” myself. 😉

          • CaliforniaStark

            Demographics play a major role in the increasing number of Democrats in Orange and San Diego counties; particularly the increase in the Latino population.

          • Johnathan Swift Jr.

            Well, yes, through birth and also the fact that there is very little enforcement of existing immigration laws once illegals get north of the border region or settle down. Santa Ana is another one of the most dense areas of population in California and in the United States with roughly four times the density of Palo Alto for example. Many of these numbers are suspect to those of us who are familiar with these cities because there are often people who do not fill out census forms because they have converted garages to housing or added onto the house so create more bedrooms. In one of my early jobs in the 1970s, I saw about 35 illegal aliens working every day. In that era they were frequently caught in Huntington Park or Bell, bedroom communities even then that were filled with illegal aliens, and sent home. It was only when they essentially stopped enforciing the laws in the cities, under pressure by activists, that they began to bring, wives and children and buy homes.

          • Johnathan Swift Jr.

            None taken. NIMBY is not of course exclusive to Democrats, that wasn’t my point, it was the notion that there is any weight of dirty low-down profit-seeking Repubican developers who create the tipping point in Southern or Northern California. The motivation in most cases is to retain the character of the neighborhood and/or property values or quality of life, which effects all humans one would think. It is the idea that it is dirty capitalists, Republican capitalists, not Democrat or Independent capitalists, or rent-seeking crony capitalists of either party who are the root of all evil, its a meme, not reality.

            As far as El Toro, this is a common situation with airports. People move close to an airport and then complain about the traffic and noise. Go figure. I can see that going from a millitary airport with a much more truncated series of take-offs and landings to a full-on commercial airport would have been opposed. That wasn’t indeed what they signed on for and perhaps if you or I were there, we would have done the same thing. Me, I would like to think I would not have complained about noisy choppers or VTOL jets because that is what was there when I got there.

            These conflicts are natural and very hard to solve. An area that becomes wealthy or rich quickly outpaces the ability of the service class to afford to live there. You see this in every tony sky resort like Aspen where the workers live in cramped housing or drive an hour over mountian roads in the snow to get to work. I understand both sides in these debates, it just amuses me that the same people who claim to be for the little guy based in their voter affiliation want to claim moral superiority and yet work to keep their own nest feathered only with the rich like them.

      • CaliforniaStark

        My post stated that I was referring to “Southern California.” You responded to it with a lot of statistics from Northern California.

        I live in San Diego, which just comfortably re-elected a Republican mayor — he pulled large majorities in the coastal communities such as La Jolla and Point Loma, The coastal cities of Orange County and San Diego are mostly Republican (Darrell Issa is the congressman for some of this area); Democratic votes come from areas inland that are less affluent. To an extend the same situation exists north of Los Angeles in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. Income level is a major determinate of political registration. Agree west Los Angeles and San Francisco are filled with leftists; and have been for some time. I try an avoid Los Angeles whenever possible; it has a whole different mindset; it differs from San Diego, which has a considerable military presence.

        By the way, don’t assume that anyone not a registered Republican in California is automatically a leftist. A substantial amount of independent voters in California are not, and there still is a cadre of moderate Democrats.

    • Joe Eagar

      Slander? Do you have any idea what it’s like to be driven out of the town you grew up in because of cost of living increases? It took me ten years to get back to NorCal.

      Here’s a suggestion. Why don’t *you* try living in the hot AZ desert, and *then* tell me how wonderful CA’s community planning boards are.

  • seattleoutcast

    Well, good riddance to those Republicans anyway. They’ll just upset our utopian plans.

    At least that’s the attitude in Washington State. I imagine it’s the same in California.

    • JR

      When the entitlement spending in the form of pensions comes due we will see a reckoning where you get paid pennies on a dollar. Until that day comes, the trends described by the article and confirmed by you will only continue.
      Utopian plans have batted .000 since the beginning of recorded history. Something tells me that number isn’t about to change anytime soon.

      • WeirdLore

        Yes, I think that our society is artificially kept in place by extreme debt. That is slowly changing now – the elites are fighting the inevitable. The question is whether they can gradually adjust the economy to a new level or whether they will slip up. Personally, I don’t think the elites are quite as smart as they think that they are.

    • Blackbeard

      This. I live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan where the median voter is a Bernie Sanders socialist and it goes left from there. Go out to dinner with these folks, let them get a few glasses of Chardonnay under their belts, and just listen but don’t argue and you will learn what they really think. And that’s utter contempt for the, as they suppose, ignorant, bigoted, and inbred red state voters that, after all make up roughly half the country. Is the country becoming more divided? Great they would say, we don’t want any Republicans around here.

  • Andrew Allison

    Alternatively, the study may belong in The Journal of Irreproducable Results.

  • Jim__L

    I was at a Silicon Valley dinner party the other night consisting to tech workers (almost all childless, and as far as I can tell all very far to the Left), many of whom were summer-program workers whose visas were up. The question went around the table, “What would you take with you from Silicon Valley, if you could?”

    The answers were informative. Most of them were very diplomatic (even sentimental) dinner-party fare, “The friendliness!” “I would take the people with me!” “The fact that I can go to a talk about colonizing the upper atmosphere of Venus and happen to run into the founder of my favorite web app startup!” (yes, that was really one of the answers) — and some were very California-based “I would take the beaches!” (which are totally inaccessible via mass transit, by the way). My own answer was, “I would take the fascinating projects we all work on, and let me fill you in on a startup I’m working on to allow people from everywhere else in the country and in the world to do just that…”

    Pretty much none of them talked about anything involving “amenities”. No one mentioned opera, symphony, museums, or other culture*; no one mentioned restaurants or high-end shopping; no one mentioned cute, walkable downtowns or not needing a car**; And of course no one talked about professional baseball, football, basketball, or hockey games, where in the world do you think we’re talking about?

    From the evidence I saw, if it’s anything sociological, it’s tribalism — one woman mentioned (in a slightly different context) what she likes best about the group house she lives in is that she knows everyone else living there is just as into Sustainability as she is. Though she also complained about being bored that no one there ever wanted to go out and see the City, or go to museums, and the like.

    Other parts of the country — like New York, presumably*** — make a big deal of “amenities”, but to be honest, that’s not what Silicon Valley is about. Migrationally, it’s the Gold Rush, or Hollywood — people come here with big dreams, to strike it rich, to be come a star, and the way to do that is understood to be taking a technical idea and making it big. The fact that making it big actually happens is why the rents are so high.

    “Amenities”? Only if you properly understand the term, and even then, it really ties back into the people and the tech.


    * unless you count the talk about colonizing the upper atmosphere of Venus. By the way, the idea is to build dirigibles to float in the habitable band of the Venusian atmosphere, above the clouds of sulfuric acid, where the temperature and pressure are similar to Earth’s atmosphere. If you were curious. And if you weren’t curious, you probably don’t understand what Silicon Valley means by the term “amenities”. 😉

    ** In fact, one major problem an attendee was trying to solve during the evening was how to arrange transportation for a Yosemite trip when the car usually available to borrow was being used by some out-of-town visitors wanting to tour the City. Not having enough cars that could comfortably make the trip was a pain in the neck.

    *** When you get right down to it, how many Niorkers actually get to the Met at any time in their lives? I’d bet the percentage is pretty small. I suspect “amenities” are bragging rights, mostly.

  • Conqueror of All Foes Cheese

    My theory is that non-liberals want to live in areas with less regulation and zonong because they don’t want to live next door to Stepford type smug A-holes.

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