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Op-Ed: In Defense of NIMBYs -- and a Campaign to Fight Sacramento's Power Grab Over Local Control of Development

By Randy Alcorn

Imagine how much housing could have been built on Shoreline Park, The Douglas Family Preserve, and Elings Park.

I suspect that most of us are grateful for the generosity, foresight, and determination of the people who rescued those places from housing developments. Yet, there are those who would castigate these folks as "NIMBYs" -- Not in My Backyard -- for foiling the planned people-packing projects.

The reality for a place like Santa Barbara is that there will never be enough housing for everyone who wants to live here.

In that respect, Santa Barbara is no different than many of the other highly desirable places on the planet that the vast majority of people can only visit. Attempting to accommodate the endless demand for housing here can only result in the degradation of what makes the place so desirable — sadly, a process well underway. 

The state's power grab. Santa Barbara’s superlative singularity is being steadily diminished by the persistent packing-in of more residents, a calamity intensified by the state’s ham-fisted housing mandates that override local zoning ordinances, impose must-build quotas on communities, essentially outlaw single-family neighborhoods, and allow developers to build without local approval.

The consequences of such misbegotten policies are evident in California communities already overrun with population and plagued with all the soul-sucking tribulations of urban mass.

There are, of course, critical and consequential environmental concerns to consider. Chief among these are limited water resources and increased susceptibility to wildfires, landslides, and flooding — all growing more severe with climate change. Several major insurance companies are now refusing to offer coverage for homes in California because of these increasing risks.

Historically, one’s home has been considered sacrosanct; trespass is not only unlawful but also a grievous violation of a fundamental personal right. Our concept of home expands outward to include neighborhood and town. Whatever affects the outer rings, especially the neighborhood, eventually affects the very center — one’s home.

There are certain expectations, sometimes firmed up with written covenants, but more often maintained by comity among neighbors, that foster the character of a neighborhood.

Local zoning and building ordinances assure essential elements of ambience. People buy or rent homes in particular neighborhoods because of that ambience — often paying a premium for it.

Now, however, the fundamental right to secure enjoyment of home and neighborhood is under attack in California by the barrage of state legislation that tramples over local zoning and building ordinances, forcing communities to accommodate more housing and to increase density, even in existing neighborhoods.

This overweening, even brutal onslaught against neighborhoods and towns is not only a futile attempt to provide enough housing for everyone who wants to live in California but also a threat to transmogrify existing neighborhoods into crowded, cheek-to-jowl, favelas. 

Even if your home is in a single-family neighborhood, your next-door neighbors are now allowed to build multiple units of housing, right up close to your property line, and without providing off street parking. Did you have a view? Too bad. Imagine what becomes of your quiet, uncrowded neighborhood. Imagine the lines of cars parked up and down your street every day.

Myopic confiscation. There can be no greater trespass than confiscation. What the state’s myopic, misguided, politicians are attempting to pull off with their housing mandates and usurping legislation is just that — effectively confiscating neighborhoods and communities. If you chose to reside in a neighborhood of single-family homes, the state can take that away from you. If you chose to reside in a small town, the state can take that away from you.

And for what? To cram ever more people into a state that is already populated well beyond safe carrying capacity.

Why do people who are not residents of a community, but want to be, have greater priority and superior rights than those who are? What is the rational and moral justification for destroying towns and neighborhoods of existing residents to provide homes for would-be residents?

Not everyone can or should live in California. There are other places in the nation where housing is more available and more affordable.

And just what is “affordable housing”?

A flawed theory of social engineering, By “affordable”, people-packing politicians and social justice advocates mean anyone who wants a home, even in places like Santa Barbara, should be able to have one. They wrongly expect that more supply will lower prices — just keep building more, higher, infill every nook and cranny even if it means disregarding current residents and ravaging existing neighborhoods.

If that worked, places like Manhattan would have some of the most affordable housing in the country.

Some places have demand so great that supply can never be adequate. Prices never come down because the housing is always affordable for someone. If it were not, homes would not sell and rentals would stand vacant.

No one is entitled to a home wherever they wish to have one. Trying to accommodate everyone who wants to live in a particular place results in no one really having that place ever again because what makes it so desirable is ultimately destroyed.

It gets loved to death—and once it’s gone, it’s gone for everyone, forever.

A green shoot of opposition. Some places are worth preserving. That is why we establish parks, preserves, and historical districts—to prevent the ravages of human activity from destroying them. Small towns are worth preserving too. Must every town in California become another Los Angeles?

Your neighborhoods and singularly beautiful places like Santa Barbara are on the verge of abolition by misguided politicians and the insatiable forces of greed.

If you are a current resident – either homeowner or renter—and you like where you live, you like your neighborhood, your town, your state, you need to push back against the people-packers in Sacramento and in your local community.

Support the Your Neighborhood Voices ballot initiative that would rein in the state’s people-packers.

Making the case for protecting a place from the ravages of over-population invariably elicits indictments of selfish NIMBYism. But such indictments aren’t a cogent refutation of the case being made against people-packing. They are rather a feeble attempt to dismiss the argument by besmirching those making it.

Who is actually being selfish, those who conflate desire with deserve, and would force others to give up their homes, neighborhoods, and towns, or those whom they vilify as NIMBYs for resisting the taking?

NIMBY is not a pejorative; it is an honorific.

Randy Alcorn, a Santa Barbara resident for 52 years, has written commentary and analysis about local public affairs since 2000.























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