SB 1818: The Devil’s in the Density Bonus Details

SB 1818, California’s density bonus law is misguided. The situation is exacerbated by the LA City Council’s proposal for local implementation, which increases density bonuses to 35%, well beyond that mandated by state law.

The City Council should refuse to comply with SB 1818. After all, they disregarded the wishes of the US Government by proclaiming LA a sanctuary city and by recently reaffirming Special Order 40. If they can ignore federal law regarding illegal immigration, why can’t they ignore a bad state law on housing?

SB 1818 will hurt those it purports to help. It will put “below market rate” buyers in property prisons where they can lose their down payment and equity. It will hurt market-rate buyers who have to compensate for the low, fixed HOA fees of their neighbors. It will lead to housing stock decreases and an unnecessary decimation of zoning laws. It will mean an onslaught of infrastructure problems.

The “housing affordability crisis” is a myth. Today, a person can buy a condo in the San Fernando Valley for $82,000 and a house for $299,000; and prices are on the decline. Apartment rents start at $525 per month. A five-bedroom house in Valley Glen goes for as little as $1600 per month.

Paternalistic housing laws are unnecessary and destructive. The Los Angeles City Council should find ways to encourage developers to build market-rate units in areas where new units will be naturally affordable. Public-private partnerships between government and real estate industry professionals should be explored as an avenue for increasing homeownership.

County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky was the first to criticize the Los Angeles proposal in a letter to Mayor Villaraigosa. My comments were forwarded to the Mayor and City Council in October 2007.