Does ‘social justice’ really require that poor people be given the same bragging rights as the wealthy?

Whoever knew that equity and social justice requires that folks be able to live in Beverly Hills regardless of their financial means? This may the biggest lifestyle boost since the Beverly Hillbillies struck crude and rolled into town.

The legendarily swank enclave of Beverly Hills is in a real lather. The enlightened social engineers in Sacramento have ordered the tony town to produce a roadmap to build 3,104 units of new “inclusionary” housing, of which three-quarters must be affordable to low- and middle-income individuals. The town demurred, pointing out that there is not enough remaining room in town for another 3,000 homes without high-rise buildings and ruining the attractive character of the place. A state housing nonprofit—Californians for Homeownership—sued the city, obtaining a judicial order prohibiting any more construction in the city, including remodeling projects like kitchens and bathrooms, until the town complies with the state’s edict.

The swells of Beverly Hills are in a panic, contemplating an unendurable existence without new waterfall pool grottos and squash courts and with having to endure a primitive 2018 yoga room. Pool houses and home theaters are permeated with dread, while cabana boys tread carefully. I imagine that local therapists are being swamped with anxiety attacks from worthies stressed over being confined to atrociously appointed quarters. Fashionably progressive celebrities, long engaged in their righteous fight for social justice on behalf of “The People,” are feeling betrayed by having the ungrateful beneficiaries turn on them with their housing aspirations.

And it is not just Beverly Hills that is under attack. Tiny Atherton, California, the nation’s richest ZIP code, is on the spot to make space for 348 new affordable housing units. B-ball standout Steph Curry is in the forefront of efforts to quash a new general plan providing for development to satisfy the state mandate, terrified at the prospect of fans gawking at him and his family in their pool from neighboring high-rise apartments.

And even my much more modest burg of Pismo Beach, a town that is almost completely built out, is under the gun by the state to come up with a plan that could enable hundreds of new low-income units to get built. Towns all over California are scrambling to satisfy the state mandates but are afflicted with either a shortage of suitable land or the unavailability of developers who are willing to undertake unprofitable low-income housing developments.

Affordable housing is a very real problem. In San Luis Obispo, many of the people who work there and perform important functions are unable to live nearby and are forced to make long commutes from Santa Maria and other less expensive areas. It is in a community’s best interests to have housing reasonably proximate for those who work here.

But Beverly Hills or Atherton? These sorts of addresses are sought after because they are so exclusive, and buying a home there is something that you can flaunt by sending “I’ve moved!” address change announcements to high school rivals you haven’t seen in 30 years. 

Does “social justice” really require that poor people be given the same bragging rights as the wealthy? Is there really a right to live in any community you choose, regardless of your economic circumstances, and is it really necessary that every town reflect all income levels? 

Sorry, but this seems less morally compelling than calls for shelter, food, and medical care, and more “rich people really piss me off. Let’s slap them around.” 

Few of us ever live in our first choice of housing, and many of us have lived in some undesirable areas due to finances. Currently, I rather fancy one of those massive new estates in Shell Beach overlooking Pirate’s Cove but have learned to live with my disappointment. But should I have to settle? Doesn’t social justice require the residents there to take me in and subsidize a home for me? I’ll go get some moving boxes and start packing. 

The harsh reality is that desirable areas on the Central Coast like SLO will always have a shortage of housing, as more people want to live here than the area can support. We can’t build our way out of the problem without destroying the place. Just look at the controversy over the Dana Reserve and San Luis Ranch projects. Where do we find enough space for development without ruining the environment? What do we do about water? 

Not everyone who wants to live here can. Availability can be determined by either the free market, in which those who can afford it get to live here, or by the subsidized inclusionary housing lottery. But just don’t assume that the winner of the inclusionary lottery will be you, as there will always be far more people applying than there are units available. It is sort of like winning a home in a raffle. If you win—yippee!—but if not and you still want to live here, you will have to pay more to subsidize the lucky winners. 

Inclusionary housing may keep legions of planning bureaucrats chugging away, but it is unlikely to help you.

John Donegan is a retired attorney, currently in Pismo Beach, who once had a prestigious Beverly Hills address until he was towed away. Send a response for publication to [email protected].

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