Friday, September 2, 2016

Prof. Ethan Elkind: Why Developers Need To Prioritize Local Planning For Infill

Bill Witte [right] is the CEO and Chairman of Related California, one of the largest developers of urban and multifamily housing in the state.  So if anyone should know about the challenges facing infill development in California, it should be him. The Planning Report summarizes one of his recent keynotes and a subsequent interview, which should be required reading for anyone trying to address the challenges of building more infill.

His big point? We need better local planning in this state, or else we’ll face continued backlash against infill and a resulting continued shortage of housing. Key passage here:
But every 10 years, in the middle of a boom, there is a call to pass a housing impact fee, and stop or slow development. The City of San Jose recently passed one, and there’s discussion throughout the Bay Area of bringing it to other communities. Taken collectively, we’ve got a serious problem. 
Why does this happen? Is this just a point in the cycle? 
No. It’s because there’s perceived inaction at every level of government. As a result, people throw up their hands. 
In LA, other than an unfortunately failed attempt in the Hollywood area, there has been no updating of Community Plans. Developers are accused of negotiating to make a deal, but it’s more like stumbling our way through the process and getting to the point of working with our Council office, making a deal, and hopefully getting it through.
Witte urges small and medium-sized development companies to get involved at the local level to draft more comprehensive, functional plans for growth.

Meanwhile, for a slightly different take, Carol Galante and Caroline Reid at UC Berkeley argue [PDF] that the state should get more directly involved in regulating local land use, in order to overcome local resistance to new housing.

It may ultimately take a combination of the two approaches to improve development and affordability in the state.  But given the political resistance to more state-centered planning, Witte’s approach seems like the more urgent path to take at this point.


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