The coming NIMBY reckoning?

Your guide to California policy and politics
Ben Christopher BY Ben Christopher October 25, 2022
Presented by Dairy Cares, Southern California Gas Company, Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership and Politifest 2023

The coming NIMBY reckoning?

A specter is haunting California’s affluent suburbs and beachside communities: The “builder’s remedy.”

Let’s back up. 

In California, the state sets housing goals for local governments. Under a decade-old law, cities and counties that fail to meet those goals or submit their plans on time have to allow any housing anywhere at any height or density, as long as 20% of the new units are deemed “affordable.”

This “builder’s remedy” policy spent most of its statutory life gathering dust. But in the last few years, the Legislature has passed a series of laws to give it teeth, and the state’s housing agency has hired a team of new enforcers

According to a tally by the Los Angeles Times, 124 cities across southern California are currently out of compliance with state law. The deadline for northern California is January.

That has cities across the Bay Area scrambling to write housing plans — though not all of them are particularly credible. Wealthy enclaves have recently “allowed” new housing in an active creek bed, at the site of an unsuspecting business and at its own city hall.

But some locals are getting the message.

  • Piedmont Mayor Teddy Gray King: “I’m not going to tell our city attorney to try to fight these allocations, because we would lose…That’s totally irresponsible. And it’s a lousy way to behave.”

Time to vote: Find out everything you need to know about voting before California’s election ends Nov. 8 in the CalMatters Voter Guide, which includes information on races, candidates and propositions, as well as videos, interactives and campaign finance data. And if you missed last week’s CalMatters event on the seven ballot measures, you can watch it here.


1 Newsom’s other campaign

Gov. Gavin Newsom during The Texas Tribune Festival in Austin, Texas on Sept. 24, 2022. Photo by Jordan Vonderhaar
Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during The Texas Tribune Festival in Austin, Texas on Sept. 24, 2022. Photo by Jordan Vonderhaar

Gov. Gavin Newsom has said over and over and over again: He has no plans to run for president.

But for a guy with “sub-zero” interest in occupying the White House, he certainly has spent a lot of time this year on the national stage.

He’s aired TV spots in Florida, paid for newspaper ads in Texas, put up billboards in Ohio and transformed himself into a “a voice for frustrated liberals who wanted their leaders to stand up more forcefully against Republicans,” CalMatters political reporter Alexei Koseff notes in his latest article that tries to make sense of the governor’s political plans and ambitions.

One explanation: He’s laying the groundwork for a 2028 presidential run.

Another, offered by Newsom himself: Last year’s unsuccessful recall effort, which became a national headline-grabbing spectacle, sparked an earnest desire to push back against the national GOP.

  • Newsom: “I understand the toxicity of the national discourse…I think it’s incredibly important to assert ourselves and to push back and to meet this moment head-on and not be naive about how ruthless the other side is.”

2022 Election

Latest coverage of the 2022 general election in California

In other election-related news, consider the California Supreme Court.

Yes, that does count as election-related news. Check your ballot, if you don’t believe me. You’ll find the names of four justices on the state’s highest court up for a retention vote

Who are these people? And why is that so few Californians know who they are or what they do? 

Check out CalMatters’ justice reporter Byrhonda Lyons on “one of the most diverse, consequential — and unrecognizable — branches of California government.”

2 A test score bonanza

State test results show California students overall performed much worse in math and English language arts than pre-pandemic, but a persistent achievement gap didn't worsen, as initially feared. Photo Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters
State test results show California students overall performed much worse in math and English language arts than pre-pandemic, but a persistent achievement gap didn’t worsen, as initially feared. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

If you’ve been seeing a flurry of test score-related headlines that seem to contradict one another, you have every right to be confused.

Monday, the state released its long-awaited and long-delayed 2021 test scores, offering education policy experts their best look yet at the academic toll the pandemic took on California’s students. 

Hours earlier, the federal government released its own test-score data.

Taken all together, there was good news and there was bad news

The bad news, which many, including CalMatters’ Joe Hong, predicted:

  • The state data showed that California students meeting state math standards fell by 7 percentage points.
  • The share meeting reading and writing standards fell by 4 percentage points.
  • These declines effectively wiped away all the progress made since California revamped its education funding system eight years ago.

The good (or at least, not so bad) news:

  • The state’s persistent racial and socioeconomic gap in test performance actually narrowed.
  • The national data, based on a smaller number of students on different tests, showed that while performance declined across the board, California fared better than most states.

The statistical mixed bag fascinated easy political spin from both sides. Newsom stressed the national numbers, which showed that California’s focus on “keeping kids safe during the pandemic” didn’t come at an especially steep education cost.

Legislative Republicans pointed to the state numbers to make the case that California’s public schools are floundering.

But averages can be misleading. How did students in your school district do? Check out the handy search tool from CalMatters data reporter Erica Yee.

3 We’re number four?

Illustration by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters; iStock
Illustration by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters; iStock

California may not yet be “über alles,” as the Dead Kennedy’s once notably alleged. But we are above all but three countries. Soon. Maybe.

According to an analysis by Bloomberg columnist Matthew Winkler, the California economy is on track — and according to one forecast, already is — larger than Germany’s. That would mean the total value of the almonds, apps, houses, Hollywood movies and every other good and service produced by the Golden State’s economic engine dwarfs that of every country in the world except Japan, China and the United States as a whole.

Naturally, the Newsom administration trumpeted the news Monday by press release and by tweet

  • Newsom: “While critics often say California’s best days are behind us, reality proves otherwise.”

The administration’s Department of Finance wasn’t able to confirm this milestone. And if true, it seems to be as much a story of German economic stagnation as it is Golden State success.

But California has been climbing the ranks for years now:

While on the subject of California vs. Europe: The United Kingdom’s Conservative party picked Rishi Sunak to become the country’s next prime minister on Monday. He no doubt hopes to stick it out longer than his predecessor — and, for that matter, a wilting head of lettuce. A practicing Hindu born to Punjabi parents who emigrated from Kenya, Sunak will be the first south Asian and non-Christian Brit to hold the post, a fact noted by U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna, a Silicon Valley Democrat.

Sunak is also likely to be the first PM who is a California beachfront property owner. He and his wife, fashion designer and heiress Akshata Murthy (they met at Stanford) own a condo in Santa Monica reportedly valued at around $7 million.

If any London-based journalists are reading this, please ask the new PM for his thoughts on California’s “builder’s remedy” and report back.


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The latest academic test results indicate again that California has a severe and potentially disastrous crisis in public education.

Doing more: As the opioid epidemic worsens, California officials have so far declined to use a stronger overdose treatment approved by the FDA last year, writes Jaime Puerta, co-founder of Facing Fentanyl


Other things worth your time

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Jewish caucus demands Adidas cut ties with Kanye over antisemitism // Times of San Diego

Judge rules for baker who refused wedding cakes to lesbian couple // ABC7

Tom Steyer, Michael Bloomberg and the case of the missing megadonors // Huffington Post

Harvey Weinstein’s 2nd sexual assault trial begins in Los Angeles // CNN

As drought drives prices higher, millions struggle to pay for water // Los Angeles Times

The Democrats’ midterm challenge // The New Yorker

How one bike lane came to symbolize a “war on cars”  // San Francisco Chronicle

Opinion: The great corruption of behested payments in California // Los Angeles Daily News

Sacramento teacher arrested in teen’s 2020 disappearance // KCRA

Silicon Valley’s Curtis Yarvin wants American democracy toppled // Vox 

Office vacancies in San Francisco continue to grow // SFGATE

See you tomorrow


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