Why The Housing Crisis Will Continue and Santa Clara’s Old Boys Machine Will Stay in Control

By The Editorial Board

Now that SB 827—the bill that would have overruled local zoning controls on placing housing development within a certain distance of ferry or rail transportation—has been suffocated, there’s no shortage of finger-pointing.

The bill would have potentially increased the number of homes on the El Camino Real corridor to about 450,000. That would have such a significant impact that UrbanFootprint.com titled a story about SB 827, “Can One Street Solve the San Francisco Bay Area Housing Crisis?”

SB 827 has fostered some surprising political alliances—what else has ever gotten the mayors of Berkeley and Beverly Hills on the same page?

It may seem surprising, but it’s really not.


The real threat of SB 827 to Beverly Hills and Berkeley is that it potentially “up-zones” low-density—expensive—neighborhoods, not the poor ones that already have high density. Sanctuary City Berkeley, it seems, only offers sanctuary for the rich and the homeless.

SB 827 is “the only way to actually build affordable housing outside of the neighborhoods that are already building more than their fair share of homes,” Cathy Reisenwitz wrote on TheBayCityBeacon.com recently. Hence, Beverly Hills’ and Berkeley’s strange bedfellows alliance.

But how does this relate to Santa Clara, which is neither Beverly Hills nor Berkeley?

Although the Santa Clara City Council didn’t take an official stand on SB 827, their actions—or rather, inaction—says everything. Irvine’s Mission Town Center, Prometheus’ proposal for the Moonlight shopping center, Mariani’s high density housing proposal, John Sobrato’s $1 million microhousing plan, and CORE’s 900 Winchester (BAREC). People would have been moving into most of them now had it not been for the City Council.

The icing on the Council’s NIMBY cake is its freeze on housing development on El Camino Real, pending a $900,000 El Camino Area Plan overhaul due in November. Students of bureaucracy know that “a new study” is where action goes to die.

All this has bearing on the California Voting Rights Act lawsuit playing out in court. Santa Clara’s City Council is certainly unrepresentative, but not solely for the reasons being argued in court.

Santa Clara’s City Council and Planning Commission are made up of long-time home-owners—although one Council Member is at the moment renting a house from a friend, he recently sold a house he owned for many years. Most renters aren’t so fortunate.

All of the Council Members are over 40—all but one are over 50. Millennials—burdened by massive amounts of educational debt and crippling rents and shut out of home ownership in the Bay Area by ridiculous real estate prices—are unrepresented.

Even if the proposed 2×3 at-large system of electing the Council passes court muster, it’s not going to change the lack of renter representation. The committee overseeing the districting exercise has no renters.

It doesn’t matter if the last names of the over-50 homeowners on the Council are Rodriguez, Chang, Singh or Smith. Or whether their multi-million dollar real estate sits north of El Camino or south of it. The Council won’t represent renters—and especially low-income renters—any more than it does now, even though renters are a majority of Santa Clara’s residents.

That’s because, first, renters aren’t evenly distributed in the City. Second, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, renters are a minority of “likely” voters—for reasons that include frequent moves because people can no longer afford the rent and the associated need to re-register.

The NIMBYs will still be in charge.

Here is where a district system would provide better representation. Certain parts of Santa Clara have more apartments than others. A fair districting would inevitably put renter majorities in some districts and give Millennials their fair seat at the table.

Then we might have a chance of addressing the housing crisis.