Thinking Boldly about California Housing and CEQA

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John Cox interviewed at the 2017 California Economic Summit in San Diego (Photo Credit: Violeta Vaquerio/CA Fwd)

The California Economic Summit has been promoting a conversation among state leaders about how to lift millions of Californians who live in or near poverty into the middle class. The Summit has asked the major 2018 gubernatorial candidates to share their views. Republican John Cox of San Diego thinks solving the housing crisis in the state—which has been a Summit policy staple the last several years—must be addressed.

I believe that there are two Californias – the one we have and the one we could have. Unfortunately, due in large part to the corrupting influence of special interest money contributing to the woeful leadership, Californians face record housing costs, cost of living, poverty, crime, taxes, economic stagnation, and an unfunded pension liability in the hundreds of billions.

We cannot expect to fix California’s growing economic problems with small, piecemeal actions. We need bold thinking that sweeps away years of special interest regulations and politically correct penalties imposed on productivity and job creation.

Winston Churchill once said, “I contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.” To that end I am offering a plan for growth that relies not on taxation, but growing our resources through prosperity.

First, we need to address the high cost of housing and lack of supply. The key to solving the government-created housing crisis is to replace the sledgehammer of the California Environmental Quality Act with a greatly streamlined set of sensible reforms. The current rules have made housing unaffordable which means it doesn’t work. If something doesn’t work, it needs to change. A major overhaul of the 47-year-old CEQA law will go a long way to solve this issue.

Allowing homebuilders to start building housing again, at full capacity, would have a tremendous impact on construction jobs and those of related industries

The economic growth impact of those new jobs on business activity and government revenues will make it possible to restore the financial solvency of California government by making it possible to address the state’s unfunded public pension liabilities and protect workers’ retirement income.  

In the past, efforts to repeal regulations have met with huge opposition from special interest lobbyists whose clients are often enriched by those very same regulations. I plan to shine the spotlight on the corrupting influence of special interest money on our government and help citizens hit the re-set button.

A Los Angeles Times editorial from July 14, 2017, “Organized labor groups have used the threat of CEQA lawsuits to force developers to hire unionized labor. Companies have filed CEQA lawsuits to block competing businesses. Homeowner groups have used CEQA to stop construction or shrink the size of apartment complexes in the middle of cities. And now there’s the Parking Spot lawsuit, which on the surface certainly looks like one company’s attempt to ensure that the airport’s ground transportation plan doesn’t hurt its business.”

Prior to that, Los Angeles Times editor-at-large Jim Newton on April 21, 2016, Newton wrote, “CEQA is also a woefully blunt instrument that thwarts economic growth and, perversely, can actually harm the environment.”

When Sacramento wanted to build the new sports and entertainment arena, the California State Legislature passed a bill to waive CEQA requirements on the project, a luxury generally not afforded to California’s homebuilders – which by the way, provide a significant number of good union jobs.

What was once a well-intentioned bill signed by then-Governor Reagan, CEQA has now become the tool of special interests, crony capitalists, and litigators to stifle growth in California. It needs updating.

I know that these are bold proposals, but given the problems our state is facing, we need to think boldly and be innovators as we chart the future of California.

State Treasurer John Chiang shared his thoughts in this commentary. We will share others as we receive them.


John Cox

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