The state Legislature has the housing crisis backwards

Instead of forcing new luxury housing on cities, why not limit commercial office growth until there is enough room for the new workers to live?

I remain intrigued by state Sen. Scott Wiener’s contention that California cities need to build more housing “because people come here whether or not we build housing.” That’s been true over the past decade or so – but it’s not quite the way Wiener frames it.

People come here because cities and counties have made it a priority to build office space for the tech industry. If Apple hadn’t built a headquarters for 25,000 workers in Cupertino, the housing crisis wouldn’t be as bad.

Cupertino approved this without asking where the workers would live

It’s hard to argue that cities should reject new jobs. But if Wiener really wants to address the housing crisis in California, he needs to look both at supply and demand. And he never talks about the demand side.

For example: His new bills want to take away the ability of cities to limit new housing. But what about the ability of cities to approve unlimited commercial office space that creates the insane demand for housing? What about the ability of a town that wants no new housing to approve office space for tens of thousands of workers who will then be forced to compete for housing in other places? The state Legislature never even discusses that problem.

Why not introduce legislation that says no city or county that is behind on its regional housing allocation can approve more than, say, 100,000 square feet of new office space a year until there’s enough housing for the new workers?

That way, when Apple asks permission for a giant new campus, Cupertino has to figure out: Where will all these workers live? How much will Apple pay for new affordable housing? How much in tax revenue will we get from this project, and will it pay for enough housing? Would we rather have Apple and its tax revenue – or keep our sleepy suburban feel with no increase in housing density?

Because you shouldn’t be able to have it both ways.

I think the Yimbys would agree with me that cities making big money off tech offices should have some responsibility to allow the construction of more housing. But just assuming that it’s okay to approve all the commercial office space you want is also part of local control – and that’s the part that’s causing the real problem.