Abolish zoning. Entirely. For good. – Orange County Register

2022-06-25 15:53:46 By : Mr. Eric Hua

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Go to any Southern California City Hall. Hanging in the Planning Department is a colorful zoning map of the community. Nearly all the colors in the Crayola box define where you can build a church, a school, a store, a house, an office or an apartment.

It’s the law. Amazingly, the great historic American cities and towns were built before zoning. In lovingly restored Colonial Williamsburg, residents (whether they were butcher, baker or candlestick maker) had a workshop, rooms for the family and then a small farmyard in the back. As towns and cities evolved, daily needs remained within walking distance with corner stores and apartments above shops.

Zoning ended all that 100 years ago. The fairy tale that’s told is that enlightened civic fathers, concerned about unhealthy conditions caused by the proximity of steel mills and tenements, invented zoning to

separate “incompatible uses.” Like most fables, there’s some truth to that, but for those (White) city fathers, their main concern about “incompatible uses” was separating White from Black people — the motive behind Berkeley’s pioneering zoning code (yes, Berkeley!).

While explicit racial zoning was ruled unconstitutional, the Supreme Court blessed zoning that separated “single family homes” from apartments in the famous 1926 case of Euclid v. Ambler. The court ruled that cities could restrict apartments due to the presence of renters “detracting from their safety and depriving children of the privilege of quiet and open spaces for play, enjoyed by those in more favored localities — until, finally, the residential character of the neighborhood and its desirability as a place of detached residences are utterly destroyed.”

In the century since, zoning has reinforced racial and economic segregation. It’s also forced us to rely on cars to connect uses that were once within walking distance, generating the hellish traffic Southern

Californians constantly bemoan. But we are finally coming to grips with the damage that zoning has done, and a new book provides both a searing critique of conventional zoning and a path toward renewing the California Dream around a more walkable, accessible and affordable future.

M. Nolan Gray is the author of “Arbitrary Lines: How Zoning Broke the American City and How to Fix It.” In this powerfully argued book, he contends “zoning has real-world effects that are dire. Between mandating parking garages and banning apartments, it has made infill development prohibitively difficult in many American cities. And in suburbs across the country, it has made the starter homes we so desperately need — think townhouses and homes on small lots — effectively illegal to build. If Americans want a fairer, more prosperous nation, zoning has got to go.”

Gray is a housing researcher at UCLA, pursuing his Ph.D. in urban planning. He lives in the Palms neighborhood of Los Angeles and maintains that L.A.“is one of the most fixable cities in America. America.” He argues that “we have it within our power to build a better and more equitable community” if “we stop regulating the wrong things and start regulating the right things, the things people care about.” Of course, zoning is so ingrained, it won’t be easily dislodged, (even if it makes housing unaffordable, impedes mobility, and perpetuates sprawl). Gray sees broad appeal for zoning repeal across Democratic/Republican and liberal/conservative divides. Employers want affordable housing for their workforce, while young people want the opportunity to live closer to where they work. Conservatives are suspicious of government overreach, progressives of laws that perpetuate segregation. Maybe those Crayola-colored maps will eventually end up in the dumpster, to the benefit of both cities and the people who live in them.

Rick Cole is a former mayor of Pasadena and city manager of Santa Monica, Ventura and Azusa. He welcomes feedback at urbanistcole@gmail.com.

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