Categories
livability

Sac general plan and housing

The City of Sacramento is updating its general plan, and as part of that process considering modification of zoning and development restrictions, with the intent of allowing the creation of more housing. A recent SacBee article, Sacramento has a plan to address its housing crisis. Some neighborhoods are fighting it, covered some of the changes being proposed by city staff, and some opposition to those ideas. The opposition is coming from neighborhood associations in East Sacramento, Elmhurst, and Land Park, at least so far. Though neighborhood associations usually represent only some of the richer and more powerful residents, they are nonetheless very politically powerful, particularly East Sacramento and Land Park, so the views of these will hold some sway with city council. I will address some of the misconceptions represented in the neighborhood association viewpoints.

These neighborhoods, along with Oak Park, were originally streetcar suburbs, developed by and for the profit of the streetcar companies and their associated development interests (greedy developers, no doubt). I recommend Bill Burg’s Sacramento’s Streetcars book (and any writing by Bill), and you can view part of the content at http://sacramentohistory.blogspot.com/2007/08/sacramentos-streetcar-suburbs.html. As such, the development pattern is a relic of times past, which met the needs of that time but do not necessarily meet the needs of this time. East Sacramento and Elmhurst had more businesses than they do now, so they are less livable neighborhoods than once they were. Not sure about Land Park. Yes, most of the housing was single family and duplexes, but there were multi-family homes as well.

The neighborhood associations want to fix their neighborhoods in time, so that they never change. That is not possible. Neighborhoods either change or decline over time. Midtown is a continual example of that, as buildings that no longer serve are either converted or replaced. The reason these three neighborhoods have only experienced some decline is that rich people live in these neighborhoods and have been able to forestall decline by an infusion of money that they’ve made in other parts of the city and region.

Fixing a neighborhood in time, if it is in good condition, will inevitably lead to inflation of home values, which I consider unearned income. Maintaining and updating houses is not what I mean, I mean that the value just goes up and up regardless of any action on the part of the owner. Many of these homes are now unaffordable for middle class people, even though that is primarily who they were built for (with the fabulous 40s and homes right on Land Park park being exceptions). Intentional scarcity makes anything more expensive, and the neighborhood associations like intentional scarcity.

So what do middle class people do? They move out to the sprawling suburbs in an attempt to find affordable housing. Of course this is partly an illusion because the cost of car ownership and the time lost to commuting subtract most or all of that cheaper housing benefit. I attribute the explosion of the sprawling suburbs in large part to the fact that the inner ring suburbs refused to allow intensification of housing to accommodate more people. Many of the people in these old neighborhoods consider themselves to be progressive, yet their resistance to change produced vast sprawl, high speed arterials and the pollution, climate change, death, and un-livability that goes with these outer suburbs, and exurbs. A phrase that has been used by many to highlight this is pretty accurate, “I’ve got mine, screw you”.

Another impact is that in an effort to prevent all change, they actually induce undesirable change. From the article: “Their fear is that investors will tear down single-family homes and replace them with poorly-maintained rental properties, charging high rents to Bay Area transplants to turn a big profit.” What instead happens is that even richer people buy small houses, tear them down, and build large McMansions on the same lot. In many cases these McMansions violate current zoning, but that is no problem is you have enough money or political power. Yes, I know that the neighborhood associations hate that too, but it is in part a result of their resistance to change. Apparently a McMansion is better than multi-family? Not in my worldview.

Bill Burg (@oldcityguardian) recently posted a photo of midtown variety of housing types, below, and a diagram of various floor area ratio scenarios, indicating the FAR of 1.0 for much of Sacramento is probably too low, and the FAR of 2.0 for the central city is too low.

variety of housing forms, midtown Sac (Bill Burg photo)
Floor Area Ratio (FAR) diagram (source unknown, via Bill Burg)

Lastly, I find the frequent assumption by homeowners that renters are somehow less community involved as ridiculous. I have been a renter every day since I left my parent’s house (I’m 68, so that is a lot of years), and I know only a very few homeowners (also friends) that have been more involved in their community.

By Dan Allison

Dan Allison is a Safe Routes to School Coordinator in the Sacramento area. Dan dances and backpacks, as much as possible.

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