Cheat-Seeking Missles

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Oh, Baby, Baby! (And Home Prices)

Are you a NIMBY, a no-growth advocate or a fan of "Smart Growth?" If you are, do you spend much time thinking about babies? If you're not, you ought to.

(Wait a second if this doesn't interest you! If eminent domain interests you, read on because you can't separate the two issues. No growth ordinances that stomp on private property rights are in the same ballpark as eminent domain.)

Babies are the forgotten, all-powerful driver of growth says Mick Pattinson in the column below, which I've lifted pretty much verbatin from San Diego's North County Times, a paper that circulates in an area full of no-growth hotheads. Mick is president of homebuilder Barratt American, and a fierce opponent of regulators, attorneys and others who are driving up the costs of the family home.

In the beginning, there was fear. Before "Growth Management," before "Smart Growth," even before NIMBYs, San Diegans were afraid of foreign invasion.

Not from Mexico. But from New Jersey and Minnesota and Oklahoma. All of whom, it was believed, were on their way, locustlike, to destroy our quality of life.

So 30 years ago, local governments started creating a series of anti-growth policies designed to discourage people from other states from moving here. You no doubt have heard the mantra: "If we build this road, that will just encourage growth." Or, "if we build this park, that will just encourage new homes."

That is why hundreds of miles of urgently needed highways were removed from the San Diego general plan. And why our infrastructure today is so meager.

Here is the truth: More than 95 percent of the new growth in San Diego today is from people who live here having babies. The rest is foreign immigration. Newborns have been the dominant factor in the growth of San Diego for at least a decade.

It is time to stop blaming the snowbirds.

Despite census figures that show San Diego grew by 1 percent last year, the truth is our region is shrinking. More than 40,000 people left San Diego County last year, and the year before and the year before that. But because their places are taken by newcomers from the maternity ward, most never notice, and fewer still say anything about the mass exodus of San Diego residents to more hospitable climes.

It suits the NIMBYs to maintain the fiction that all the growth and traffic is from out-of-towners who move here after a bitter winter. That is because our obligation to them is zero, while what we owe our children who are born here is something else altogether.

It is a lot more palatable to impose $100,000 in fees on new home buyers if we convince ourselves we are taxing people from somewhere other than here. Not our children. True or not?

The great stream of people leaving San Diego is, of course, all about housing. And how government-created shortages distorted the housing market to the point where fewer than 10 percent of the people who live here can afford a median-priced home.

The pages of the North County Times are filled with earnest opinion pieces about the need for the latest trendy anti-housing policy, all because they are going to save San Diego for the children.

But we now know it is all a lie: The children are leaving. The policies that were supposed to help them live here turned out to be nothing more than a one-way ticket to Oklahoma.
From DC to the state capitals to cities and towns across America the story is the same: The "I've got mine, I don't care about you" set is taking land out of production and imposing labyrinthine regulations over what land remains. In California, it's not unusual for regulatory costs to add $100,000 or more to the price of an average home -- and that doesn't include the increases in land prices caused by declaring land open space instead of living space.

It's a simple lesson: Selfishness, no matter how it manifests, may feel good to a selfish individual, but it's a terrible motivator for public policy.

Art: Barnett Wildlife Creations

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