We are trying to find a way to house 40,000,000 people while protecting our natural resources and dealing effectively with drought and wildfires caused by climate change.
Leonora Camner, a Santa Monica resident, only needs to open her windows in order to escape the scorching heatwaves of Southern California.
Camner is able to get to the beach in just minutes, whereas millions of Los Angeles County residents have to wait in traffic for over an hour. Although coastal access is an equity issue, Camner said that it inspired her to join Abundant Housing LA which advocates for solutions to the region’s affordable housing crisis. Now she is the group’s executive Director.
She said, “I am very lucky to live in an area where there is still a cool breeze.” “So many people live in Santa Monica but they have to move because of rising housing costs and lack of housing.”
California is facing a daunting task as home prices rise and wildfires spread across the state. The state must address climate change while also creating affordable housing. Recent mandates from Gov. Gavin Newsom has pushed the state further into what many consider an “existential” dilemma that generations have been preparing for: How to house 40 million people while protecting the state’s natural resources.
This is a difficult task in a state that has seen both homelessness as well as home prices rise due to climate change, which is causing drought and wildfires.
Camner stated that it was an urgent issue in a California facing climate changes. “With these fires, it’s impossible to see how we can address housing in a way which doesn’t account for this fact.” It is a fact that cannot be ignored.”
Newsom, a Democrat signed over two dozen housing bills last month. These housing bills were designed to spur new development and address the state’s housing crisis. A bill to curb single-family zoning, allowing up four units per lot, and one that encourages more housing density near transit or urban centers was also approved by Newsom.
The bills together will usher in a new period of growth for California, at a time where millions struggle to afford rising rents or exclusive home prices. Million-dollar homes have become the norm in California as a result of the market’s overheating. Renters face an eviction moratorium, which expired in September.
Climate change is intertwined in California’s housing crisis. It has caused severe droughts, rising sea levels and historic wildfires, as well as unprecedented heatwaves. Advocates say that the state can achieve its goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2045 by creating more housing close to jobs and transportation centers, and thus eliminating long commutes.
Southern California’s debate centering on conservation and development is a tool yet to be completed that could help bridge the gap between the two. The SoCal Greenprint is an interactive mapping platform that will provide access to over 100 data sets that highlight natural resource. The tool is based on similar projects across the country and will provide information about agricultural land, green spaces and habitats, as well as clean water and air.
All users would receive the tool at no cost. It would not be binding or regulate.
Kome Ajise is the executive director of Southern California Association of Governments. This organization manages the development of Greenprint. You can travel from the ocean to mountains in just a few hours. There’s a certain quality that everyone felt we had to protect.
In other areas of California, a sister tool is being used. The Bay Area Greenprint was launched in 2017 and is constantly updated with new information. It can be used by real estate developers, city agencies, and community organizations. According to Liz O’Donoghue (director of Sustainable Development Strategy for The California Program at The Nature Conservancy), the Greenprint was built in less than two years. This international conservation organization partnered with stakeholders in order to create it.
She stated, “It’s really, really crucial at a moment when we’re faced with so many challenges and possibilities that we have the data that people can take the decisions that they want to make.”
O’Donoghue was the project leader on the Bay Area Greenprint. He said, “Knowing where there is communities that don’t possess a park close by… is really important for building knowledge and solving a number of things we’re trying solve.”
The SoCal Greenprint is a major problem in Southern California where single-family zoning reigns supreme. A public hearing about the future of the project turned into a heated four-hour debate last week between supporters and those opposed to its immediate completion. Some people called the tool’s execution modern-day “redlining”, while others claimed it would be a “betrayal to further delay and hinder the project.
The Southern California Association of Governments members voted to suspend development of the SoCal Greenprint, pending further study and review.
Chris Wilson, the public policy manager at the Los Angeles County Business Federation, stated that the tool could have “unintended effects” and impact approximately 4,000 transportation projects in the L.A. region. This includes construction being halted due to environmental concerns discovered through the Greenprint.
Wilson and his business partners are also concerned about potential litigation due to the California Environmental Quality Act. This state law requires local governments and public authorities to address environmental impacts of major land use decisions and projects. The law was signed by the then-Gov. CEQA was signed into law by the then-Gov.
Wilson stated, “When you look at the SoCal Greenprint, it is not only about housing but also has a spillover effect on the transportation and goods movement sectors.” These are issues we want SCAG to be aware of in order to avoid unintended consequences.
Alex Fisch, Culver City Mayor, said he was shocked by last week’s contentious public hearing. He called the Greenprint a “tremendously useful tool” but also saw it as a symbol for the inherent tension between development and conservation.
He stated that “people are concerned that when you really look at the environmental impacts of building on the urban edge, it’s terrible.” It is a map but it can only be a proxy for much more.