Home prices and rent rates in non-Right to Work California are notoriously high. To be precise, according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (a state government agency), last year housing in California was more costly than in every one of the other 47 contiguous states except non-Right to Work New York. The average cost of housing for Golden State residents was 92% higher than in the U.S. as a whole! And late last month a Los Angeles Times news story by Liam Dillon showed how union officials have wielded their forced union dues-fueled political clout to block a reform that could have made the cost of Golden State housing less exorbitant. (See the link below to read the whole account.)
Big Labor-funded politicians are largely to blame for the high cost of housing in California. The state routinely issues residential building permits at a rate well below the national average. In many cases, the state’s complex environmental laws are used by special-interest groups to delay and even stop development.
High housing costs stemming from a politically-induced shortage of building permits have driven vast numbers of families headed by young adults out of the Golden State. Consequently, California’s total K-12 school-aged population (5-17 years-old) fell by 4.7% from 2004-2014 despite substantial immigration of families from abroad. Over the same period, the K-12 population for the entire U.S. rose by 0.9%.
The detrimental impact of excessive regulation on the housing market in California has become so grave that even Democrat Gov. Jerry Brown, normally a champion of extreme environmentalism, says he wants to do something about it.
According to Dillon’s story, Brown would like to “streamline affordable housing development” by exempting “urban housing projects that reserve a certain percentage of their development for low-income residents from detailed local government review.”
This is actually quite a modest step to address the home affordability crisis. As Dillon explained, a project would only qualify for Brown’s exemption “if it’s planned for land already zoned for high-density residential development.”
However, as the governor himself now concedes, his reform of the so-called “California Environmental Quality Act,” or CEQA, isn’t going to happen anyway.
The environmental lobby alone, as powerful as it is California, might not have been able to block Brown from making a change he deems to be necessary for the good of the state. His problem was that the 900 lb. gorilla of Golden State politics, the forced dues-funded Big Labor political machine, teamed up with environmental groups to thwart any substantial reform of the CEQA.
Of course, the construction union bigwigs who vociferously opposed Brown’s reform have no principled grounds for favoring costly and time-consuming environmental reviews before housing can be built.
But in California the bosses of the State Building and Construction Trades Council and its affiliated unions have become experts at using the threat of filing objections under the CEQA as a means of browbeating developers into acquiescing to union-only “project labor agreements,” or PLA’s, before construction begins.
(So-called PLA’s require nonunion companies that wish to bid on construction projects to impose union monopoly bargaining on their employees and hire new workers through discriminatory union hiring halls.)
In a recent interview with Blueprint, a magazine affiliated with the University of California, Los Angeles, Brown effectively admitted he couldn’t overcome the opposition of union officials who love the “leverage” the CEQA hands them.
In Brown’s words, “The unions won’t let you [exempt some housing construction from the CEQA] because they use it as a hammer to get project labor agreements.”
Union bosses like to portray themselves as the champions of people with average incomes, and recently construction union chieftains nationally have sought to distance themselves from other union officials, including the hierarchies of the national AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), who have forged political alliances with hard-core environmentalists.
But the fact is, union bosses of all varieties routinely support public policies that are flagrantly harmful to the interests of ordinary citizens when they see an opportunity to accelerate the flow of compulsory union dues and fees into their coffers and magnify their political clout. The cynical opposition by construction of union bosses of any loosening of the CEQA stranglehold over residential building in California is just another example of this dismal phenomenon.