Musings on the Coast

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The Attack on Young Families

By Michael Ray

Youngish families are leaving California. The stats are depressing. People aged 26 to 44, in prime family-forming age, no longer can afford to buy a home here, so they leave. They do not want to leave, but if they want the American dream, home-ownership, they do not have a choice.

I recently attended a seminar on this subject. It is the same hard fact in San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, and the Bay Area. They are too expensive, so young families are leaving. Fun fact: in Orange County, the average age is rising. Ten years ago, it was about 36; now it is about 38.

The stats also show the demographic need for new dwelling units in California are overwhelming. Millions of new units will be required in the next 20 years to accommodate natural population growth, yet the entire set of systems in California is rigged against just that.

The question is: who is stopping housing growth? And why? The answer is always the same. Old people, those who already own a home, want nothing to change, ever. No new homes, no condos, no apartments, no nothing. They’ve got theirs and fight like wounded animals to stop anything new. They attend City Council meetings in droves, screaming, “No! Not in my back yard!”

They believe they are protecting their own unique quality of life and standard of living. Take Laguna Beach. Some older people, thinking they are “saving Laguna’s village character,” deliberately and regularly opposes anything and everything that is new, down to you adding an extra bedroom.

They are hardly unique. It is the same in all desirable cities.

Then there is the State of California. Thinking microscopically, the state has created one obstacle after another. They overlay county and city regulations with a blizzard of anti-growth regulations; yet other California agencies scream that the lack of new units is an existential crisis.

Example: the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) was created, and I quote, to “disclose to the public the significant environmental effects of a proposed discretionary project, through the preparation of an Initial Study (IS), Negative Declaration (ND), or environmental Impact Report (EIR).”

This act was passed in 1970 and the intent was pure. But as time passed, more and more amendments twisted it into a Rubik’s cube. Now the approval process is so long and so expensive, the supply of new units cannot hope to keep up with demographic demand.

Further, since ordinary citizens cannot ever be expected to understand it, CEQA often is used by a variety of no-growth groups to fake out smaller cities and unwitting citizens.   A prime example is in Laguna Beach. For years, the city stated that CEQA required the town to have a strict historic ordinance, that CEQA required the town to designate homes as historic (and thus never changeable). They maintained this was true everywhere in California; and that Laguna was only following CEQA requirements.

All this was a lie. There is no CEQA requirement on this topic and it turns out the city attorney was giving advice to the City Council (supporting the idea of required historicity) because he knew a majority of the City Council wanted it. Now Let Laguna Live, a new nonprofit with hundreds of members, states the exact opposite (supported by well-researched legal support from local attorney Larry Nokes). And the city attorney, seeing the sea change in the public’s attitude, reversed himself. He admitted CEQA requires no such thing. Having historically designated houses is a choice, not a requirement.

Oh jeez, what a surprise.

The seminar I attended said there was a bottom line. Old people, those who’ve got theirs, by their actions demonstrate they do not care about the next generation. In this, they demonstrate one consistent quality: selfishness.

The young family who buys a fixer-upper in Laguna soon finds the obstacles to getting a building permit so extreme it drives them away. Only rich people can afford to buy a fixer-upper, hire an architect, hire an attorney, and hire a political consultant to navigate the system. Those people, rich people, can afford Laguna.

Every other group is toast. And old people do not care.

It is all about condescension. It is all about self-centeredness. It is all about self-proclaimed experts who scream loudly. It is all about I’ve got mine and as for you, go pound sand.

We don’t care.


Michael Ray grew up in Corona del Mar and lives in Laguna Beach. He is a real estate entrepreneur involved in many nonprofits.

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  1. Hi Michael! I loved your article this week. As the retired CEO of the Building Industy Assn of OC,, I sang this same song year after year and it always seemed to fall on deaf ears. The naysayers and NIMBYs are really the most selfish individuals I know. Builders are the most reasonable, patient, generous people I know. People forget that it is these very builders/developers that are building homes or businesses to improve communities , not destroy. The article in the LA times last week admonished the Board of Sups for approving the Tehon development without regard that they are building a beautiful city, not raping and pillaging land. When you are in development, you are in the permission business…permission from elected officials, regulatory agencies, Nimbys, community activists, neighbors, etc, etc. Anyway, I’m sure you know how I feel and I wanted to thank you for not giving up!

  2. Yes! No one more generous, kind, considerate, less-likely-to-kick-a-puppy than a builder! All they care about is improving the community! No thought for themselves and the money they make! Tejon Ranch: a beautiful city nowhere near an actual city: where will the tens of thousands of people who will move there work? how will they get there? who cares?! Peace, love, man–I’m a developer: k-ching!


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