Suing Pleasanton Over Sprawl

One of my unbelievably smart undergraduates, Alexene Farol, noted via Facebook the other day that the state of California (Jerry Brown, AG) is suing the city of Pleasanton over a 13 year-old rule that caps housing units at 29,000 for the city. It currently has 27,000.

As I said to Alexene when she raised the point, I have no idea how Pleasanton got away with this in the first place–it strikes me as both a clumsy and obvious attempt at exclusionary zoning. But I’m not an attorney, so we consulted Jesse Richardson at Virginia Tech.

Sprawl is not a housing-unit problem, per se, or a “too many people” problem. It’s a land consumption problem. Regulating the first, as Pleasanton has done, simply disallows housing unit growth in the city and thus (because as Jesse says: “growth control is not birth control”), residential growth occurs elsewhere, increasing commutes.

I don’t generally echo the New Urbanist party line that Jerry Brown does. There is plenty within their vision that doesn’t hold up, either empirically or theoretically, such as the notion that rail investment and compact development increases land values near stations (true, via more amenities) and we get more affordable housing, too (probably not, except for a short-term increase in housing unit supply, which even at “dense” US densities (i.e., not particularly dense, even when we call it density) evaporates vis-a-vis metropolitan growth). Householders aren’t in the habit of considering affordability when they know they have one of a restricted number of units while demand is increasing.

However, in this case…I can’t imagine Pleasanton getting away with doing this.