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The Land Is Freedom: A Fairer Proposal For Zoning California

By News Creatives Authors , in Real Estate , at August 26, 2021

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The ownership of land is freedom. The American Dream is the embodiment of the desire to own land and convey it to future generations. 

But what is the land? The land is, in essence, what rights you have by owning any given piece of property, wherever it is geographically located. You possess a bundle of rights when you utilize any property, whether as an owner or tenant. At times, the relationships between landowners and government become at odds, and the municipality’s ability to provide for a changing population’s evolving needs brings forth curious notions of land redistribution or artificial constraints. 

There are notions of fairness and equity, and along with them come attempts to assist the small landowner in an area he may or may not wish to participate in. Why not solve society’s problems at the expense of the rich property owners? The mere fact that many landlords haven’t been made whole is strongly supported by the lack of pandemic rent relief money being disbursed. It would seem the tenant has protection but the landlord doesn’t — or has very few options short of an understanding lender. 

To wit, there are two bills currently under consideration in the California legislature (SB 9 and SB 10) that would, in my view, effectively abolish single-family neighborhoods as we know them today. In essence, it is an old bill (SB 50) broken into two parts and reintroduced. In a surely needed attempt at providing housing, the bill entails allowing, in an existing single residential lot, splits to build duplexes on up to a 10-unit apartment building sans parking, or any other community standards review. 

This would be a considerable event, should it be fully voted into existence. As goes California, so goes the nation. With the pandemic and homeless crisis upon us, relief to whats ails is needed. But I believe that proposals borne of diminishing property desirability to grant fairness are neither fair nor just. It’s just a disguised taking of rights. 

Let me explain. Settlements, camps, towns and cities require certain things — water, gas, electricity, sewage control, schools. There’s more; check your tax bill. The value and desirability of a neighborhood are made up of these facts. If the value of an area and all benefits of it can be had at a fraction of the cost, due to changes to code made to accommodate a need for more housing, who wins and who loses? At whose expense and liberty?

If you bought your home for the quiet neighborhood and great schools, you perhaps paid a premium for the home. Say the guy next door decides to build a 10-unit dwelling that encroaches on your view and truncates your privacy. That’s a taking. Some amount of increased density is, of course, in order. But to abstract people’s biggest life investment without any input whatsoever is a taking of liberty and property.

Neighbors are just that — your neighbors. You most likely have lived among them for years and even celebrated certain events with them. Now your good neighbor decides to change his parcel into a denser property and receive more income. This is not what anybody bargained for when they moved in. What to do? Nothing, in this proposed scenario. This will create disunity and quite possibly adverse reactions. 

People don’t buy their biggest financial investments to later see a looming structure invade the sanctity of their privacy. In the search for a needed resolution, we must ask ourselves: Should the character of a single-family neighborhood be changed in order to bring equity to society? What is the impact on the quality of the schools with the additional load? Schools budget according to the student population, and introducing new students from newly dense parcels would almost certainly increase that student population. The schools can’t plan for that. Furthermore, a neighborhood known for its good schools would surely experience more density plays by current owners and developers. 

I believe in a more controlled use of density. Planning should allow for density beyond an ADU unit but short of Manhattan’s real estate landscape. Reason is in order, and stamping out the character of a neighborhood is not reasonable. I feel that if the currently zoned single-family properties owners should be allowed to increase the building area up to, say, four units and allow for the ADU. This approach would not be as invasive and would respect property owners’ desire to yield more from their assets and provide opportunities to children or other relatives to live in the same community and offer care and support to one another. This is way more manageable than just buying houses for the lot and indiscriminately building looming structures that could bring division to communities.

Some consideration should also be given to the new density offsetting any communal issues such as parking and reasonable infrastructure upgrades; the currently operating ones were designed before the newly increased density and could prove inadequate. With this approach, you get unity, additional dwelling spaces and a hole knocked in the housing problem. Also, the property would be reassessed and provide additional taxes to the state. The owner could realize their own “acre of diamonds.”

People must be vigilant to continue owning real property and receiving all the benefits possible from said ownership. Government policies must respect the rights of owners and not villainize productive ownership of land. I have heard people hypothesize that the future consists of a reset in which “you will own nothing and be happy.” Let’s hope that that’s not the case. Keep a keen eye on your property rights and anything that could curtail them.

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