Stop supply-side ‘splaining Measure S to me and get busy with better answers

Sweetie, darlings, SWEETIES–

I  know how housing markets work, and I know how how zoning and development restrictions put upward pressure on housing and land prices.  I have been a planner for 30 years. I have lived in LA for nearly 20. I have been a professor of urban planning for nearly 12 years. I don’t need this splained to me. 

So it is really irritating to me that EVERY SINGLE TIME I mention Measure S, some smartest boy urbanist comes out of the woodwork to SPLAIN HOW THINGS ARE. THE MARKET LISA THE MARKET MOAR DEVELOPMENT IS ALWAYS THE ANSWER NO MATTER WHAT THE QUESTION IS. 

I know we need more units. I know that. But we are very long on supply side rationales and very short on acknowledging that the status quo in LA SUCKS for poor people. I have been analyzing the media materials from both camps–I might show you a mosaic map later this week if I get to it. 

  Here are three things from the pro Measure S side that the BUH BUH BUH MOAR DEVELOPMENT party line does diddly to explain. 
1. Bad design.  The pro Measure S side has some pretty strong visuals of GIANT projects–the developers’ own renderings–plopped on top of places.  I suspect that those do EXACTLY what the pro camp wants them to do: scare tha crap outta most homeowners who, unlike most of us, don’t spend all their time  about urban form remedies for everything. There is a LOT wrong with these projects from a sustainability perspective: they are drive-in, drive-out projects. The projects have NO integration with the surrounding neighborhoods. The edges are hard–really hard. These projects are not about the neighborhood. They are about themselves. And we wonder why people in the nabe lose their shit and oppose them. Oh, it’s just those selfish, selfish  homeowners!

BUT LISA THE MARKET MARKET THE MARKET THESE HAVE NEW UNITS IN THEM SO THEY MUST BE WONNNNNNDERFUL. 

No, it’s possible to have good design and new units. One would grease the wheels of the other.  Measure S does not advance design. But the status quo is not doing much good either. 

2. Process and corruption concerns.  Before I started going through the materials, I had thought this was a minor part of the pro-Measure S narrative. No. It’s a BIG part of the corpus I have collected–nearly 20 percent, with the strongest sentiment attached. The concern here tends to be a toting up of big developpers and what they have paid to various city council campaigns. Now folks, I don’t expect politicians to be saints, but still. Again, the BUT THE MARKET THE MARKET THE MARKET THE MARKET LISA does not answer this problem. 

If it REALLY is about supplying  more units,  and not about specific developers hitting the jackpot with  getting their projects built in a shortage environment, then why isn’t  the city council focussed more on broad-based upzoning?  Yes, it’s possible that Measure S will slow development. It is also possible that the city could set housing targets and use the general plan process to  get communities to figure out where their fair share is going to go. Lots of possibilities. But the status quo development regime in LA has some very clear winners, and they are not opening the field for anybody else. 

3. Segmented markets and no real wage growth.  So the standard line is  ACTUALLEH, LISA THE UPWARD-SLOPING DEMAND CURVE MEANS MOAR UNITS HALPS EVERYBODY BECAUSE FILTERING AND LESS COMPETITION FOR SCARCE UNITS YAYYYYYY MARKETS AND SUPPLY SIDE SOLUTIONS.

 But market segments are real, and in global markets with no real local wage growth, it is entirely possible that even expanded supply will not result in sufficient housing at the lowest ability to pay.  From the pro Measure S side, many housing affordability advocates note…sure, you are creating more units, but they are $1000 a month at least (usually more; I am appalled at what some opponents are claiming about rental prices.) At some point, it’s like having nothing but Lamboghinis manufactured in the car market. (Only that would probably be good for us.) Ever notice that those Lambos don’t EVER filter down to the guy on the street. Supply is *already* so restricted that nobody but the top of the market gets to get in, and plopping huge projects on poor communities just spells an influx of newcomers that are going to raise prices the even more. 

It would be one thing if I were hearing the anti Measure S side grapple with this at all–like, hey, what we need is more Henry George and community land trusts, and etc. Or, hey, what we need is some Singapore style public housing, baby! Or, hey, Measure S is a crock of phooey, but I have this fabulous idea about a regional Section 8 voucher program! No. Instead,  whenever I have asked about hard market segments and the delay on delivering housing to the most deeply impoverished in a system predicated on supply side answers,  I have to sit through OOOOOOOOOOO BUT LISAAAAAAAAA THE MARKET THE MARKET THE MARKET WILL SUPPLY IF ONLY WE LET IT. 

I agree, Measure S could very well make supply harder, but for people wo are currently utterly out of the market, the abstract idea that their turn will come if we just ease supply constraints…it’s like telling people to eat cake. The market segments above them might see a benefit. But planners have been schilling this “density delivers benefits to us all!” Line for a good long long time now, and I think it’s fair for people to ask when, exactly, it is their turn ? So fine, splain how the infil project tht is going to clog my street and put more kids in my kid’s already crowded school benefits me….in 10 years? 20 years? When does my rent stop going through the roof? Oh, when the one little line crosses the other little line on the graph? Gotcha, chief. 

By not engaging with these narratives, the supply side argument sounds like straight governmentality in the Foucauldian sense.  We have a hammer, thus all your issues must be about nails, and since we on the anti-side all agree that density and urbanism are the answers, we don’t hold ourselves responsible for variations within those themes.