Commentary

Camping for Condos

From the LA Times: Simi Valley resident Sandy Funcich was holding a place in line Tuesday for her daughter and son-in-law when she was offered $5,000 for her spot. No, this wasn’t for a Bruce Springsteen concert. Funcich’s daughter is among dozens of people, including seniors and one pregnant woman, who have been camping out on a street corner here this week hoping for the chance to buy a new townhome. On Saturday, the first phase of the 100-unit complex goes up for sale on a first-come, first-served basis, with homes starting in the mid-$300,000s. With so many people scorning sprawl these days, why aren’t there more condos? Look to lawyers, NIMBYs and local politicians: Development of attached units has become rare in Southern California. Analysts cite several factors that have led to the decline in construction of condos and townhomes, most notably construction-defect lawsuits that have made builders wary of such projects. Builders say the cost of settling lawsuits makes condo development too risky, and insurers have all but stopped writing coverage for condo construction. Then there are the NIMBYs who worry that higher density housing will lower their property values. While politicians cheer for higher density living and fund projects like light rail that are supposed to increase density, they’re also not about to make waves with the NIMBYs. It’s part of the growing inversion of property rights where we have less control over our own property and more control over others’. The same people who decry the bureaucratic gantlet they must endure if they want to build an addition to their houses are often the same ones squawking for more restrictions on other properties. Developers know they’ll have less of a fight on their hands if they just head for the hills and build in less populated areas. Local politicians also generally prefer the sales tax revenues provided by retail centers, and that preference for commercial over residential adds yet another obstacle to building affordable housing. So there you have another reason to reign in spending. A government with less to do is less likely to worry about how to fund its activities and more likely to give the nod to proposals that don’t fill city coffers. Until then, we’ll continue to have local governments where politicians first concern is “What’s in it for me?” And where even parking cops aren’t thought of as law-enforcers but as “revenue-enhancers.”

Ted Balaker is an award-winning filmmaker, journalist, and founding partner of Korchula Productions, a film and new media production company devoted to making important ideas entertaining.