By Steve LaMotte
Executive Officer, Building Industry Association of Southern California, Orange County Chapter
As our communities slowly begin to recover from the upheaval created by the Coronavirus pandemic, there is a heightened level of urgency regarding the need to address a variety of critical issues facing businesses and residents alike.
Perhaps no issue is more important to the future of the economy and our quality of life than addressing the state’s dire housing crisis. This is especially true in Orange County, where according to the latest data from the California Association of Realtors, just 25% of households can afford to purchase a median-priced home. Only the notoriously expensive San Francisco Bay Area housing market has worse affordability numbers than Orange County.
The fact that our housing supply has failed to keep pace with demand is both obvious and indisputable. While there are many factors as to why new home construction has been unable to meet demand, one of the most common reasons why cities deny attempts to build new housing is the intense political pressure applied by local NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) groups. Well-organized, and often well-financed, NIMBY forces are relentless in their efforts to stop the construction of new homes in their community.
Unfortunately, this is the case in the city of La Habra, where a small group of wealthy homeowners, located in an exclusive gated community, are attempting to impose their political influence to defeat a desperately needed new housing project. Planned for the soon-to-close Westridge golf course, the homebuilder’s proposal, known as Rancho La Habra, would provide close to 450 new homes for residents across different income levels.
This particular NIMBY group, from one of La Habra’s most affluent neighborhoods, has spent tens of thousands of dollars on political ads in an attempt to deprive the community of new housing opportunities. The group’s opposition is even more egregious when you consider the fact that the Rancho La Habra plan goes far beyond helping address the city’s housing needs. If approved by the La Habra City Council, Rancho La Habra would create significant recreational and financial benefits for all residents.
In a city that is significantly below their goal for park space, Rancho La Habra would set aside almost 40 acres of new public open space, including a new public park and community center, along with over 4 miles of new trails. In addition, Rancho La Habra would generate $1.2 million in annual revenue to the city’s general fund, while also contributing over $50 million for local schools over the next ten years.
Considering the overwhelmingly positive benefit to the community, why would a privileged few engage in an aggressive and well-funded campaign to stop something that would be an asset to all La Habra residents? Sadly, their actions demonstrate an elitist attitude that the opportunity to participate in the American dream of homeownership should be made available only to certain people. It’s also confounding to think that a select few should be able to prevent the entire community from enjoying a new public park and open space where all La Habra residents can celebrate holidays, birthdays, and family reunions.
If we have learned anything since the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, it’s that politically courageous leadership from our elected officials is more important than ever. We also know that the only way out of the housing crisis is through an honest commitment to a future of full and fair housing development and construction.
For this to occur, our elected leaders must demonstrate the political will to approve new housing projects for their community. In La Habra, this means casting a vote on October 19 that will benefit all residents, not just a select few.
Steve LaMotte serves as the Executive Officer of the Building Industry Association of Southern California, Orange County Chapter.