To Reduce Costs, California Also Needs to Build New Suburbs


The three myths that have led to this predicament are the following: Nuclear power and natural gas power causes unacceptable harm to the environment; reservoirs and desalination plants cause unacceptable harm to the environment; and single-family homes nestled in sprawling suburbs cause unacceptable harm to the environment. These are myths. Yet they are being exported to the rest of America, where they will wreak the same havoc they’ve already inflicted onto Californians.

The consequences of the first two myths are chronic shortages and high prices for energy and water. Instead of building state-of-the-art, highly efficient and clean natural gas power plants, and ultra safe nuclear power plants that even reuse the spent fuel, Californians are planning to carpet hundreds of square miles of land with solar panels and befoul thousands of square miles of ocean with floating wind turbines.

This brand of “sprawl” will consume far more land than new suburbs ever could, and implementing this scheme will guarantee that Californians never have an adequate supply of affordable and reliable energy.

Similarly, Californians could be building desalination plants and off-stream reservoirs, adhering to the most stringent environmental standards anywhere in the world. Even the environment would benefit from water abundance, as the surplus water would be available to nurture streams and wetlands. But instead, even after a legendary procession of storms blasted the state this winter, California’s lawmakers are planning to restrict indoor water consumption to 42 gallons per person per day. The proposed legislation also intends to require homeowners to implement “watering budgets” for their outdoor landscaping.

If you don’t have enough energy or water, you can’t build new homes. But to make a virtue out of an unfortunate and altogether avoidable necessity, the third myth was created: suburban sprawl is an ugly blight on the Earth. But this perspective inverts reality.

Suburbs – leafy, spacious, pastoral and peaceful – and the welcoming, private, detached homes for which they are best known, are the nourishing refuges that anyone raising a family would choose. And there is no reason why suburbs cannot be affordable again. Lack of affordability is a choice made by politicians in Sacramento and Washington, a choice based on myths.

The Legislature has it half right by reducing regulations to encourage the construction of higher-density projects within the urban footprint by passing laws that provide a “by right” approval process for duplexes and multi-family projects. Now they have to get the other half right and allow cities to expand outward. New suburbs pose no threat to urban revival – and we need more of them to reduce home prices throughout metropolitan regions. Higher-density projects cost more to build, so these limited deregulatory measures don’t go far enough.

Read the rest of this piece at Pacific Research Institute.

Edward Ring is a co-founder of the California Policy Center and the author of “The Abundance Choice: Our Fight for More Water in California.”