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The coming real estate boom in California

A new 65-unit affordable multifamily apartment complex with on-site playground is nearly ready for occupancy in downtown Santa Cruz, California.

Chris Neklason contributed

The state of California has set an ambitious goal of building 2.5 million new housing units by the end of 2030 – that's more than 500,000 units per year. On average, fewer than 80,000 new homes were built per year over the last decade.

Judging by news reports from around the state, the lofty goal doesn't seem impossible. Through a combination of recent state legislation and new programs and incentives, residential projects of all sizes are entering the development pipeline.

What we see

Across the state, communities are seeking approval of their general housing plan from the California State Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).

In particular, municipalities that have been reluctant to build apartment buildings are rushing to meet their housing obligations – lest the situation slip out of their control and allow developers to move forward under state or judicial auspices.

One of my favorite headlines in this sense comes from a story in Go Gatan about the efforts of this leafy city in Santa Clara County with the headline:

“Los Gatos finally manages to get a thumbs up for its residential development from Sacramento – it only took six tries.”

Even as backward communities work to get HCD certification, housing is being constructed across the state at a staggering pace. Even though individual projects involve dozens or hundreds of new residential units, they all add up.

But there are also projects for much larger developments on the drawing board and some are already under construction. These include an 8,000-unit “healthy living” senior community in El Dorado/Sacramento counties, a 1,464-unit affordable neighborhood in Sonoma County and the ongoing Brooklyn Basin development in Oakland. Not to mention the 400,000-person city-sized California Forever community proposed in Solano County.

This is how you get involved

Plans for residential development in local communities are first publicly reviewed by the local planning commission and then typically voted on by the city council or county supervisory board.

All meetings are public and provide a good forum for citizen presence and participation.

Recent state housing and development laws, as well as the shift in majority sentiment in public policy from a NIMBY mindset to a YIMBY one – particularly among younger voters – are limiting the ability of local citizens or authorities to approve developments that make it through the approval process , to stop completely.

But citizens Do Maintain leverage to carry out housing projects better.

Is the project multi-family housing? Advocate for a local playground if one is not planned.

Is the project's landscaping water efficient and utilizes native plants? Is Dark Sky lighting approved? Is there solar power? Is the roofing white to reduce the urban heat island effect? Will the project include efficient electric heat pumps for heating and air conditioning?

Become a planning geek and advocate for more attractive, resilient and sustainable elements in development plans while the planning and approval process is still in its early stages.

If the project is built on a transit corridor and is exempt from covered car parking requirements, how safe is the area for bicycle use, what plans are there for secure on-site bicycle storage, and what public transportation options are available? Housing and transportation are linked, and one way to improve a housing project is to expand options for safe, car-free transportation.

Become a transportation policy expert and advocate for new sidewalks, protected bike lanes, and improved transit in your community.

The real estate boom is here. Now is the time to step up and do better.

Get into the weeds. Find the missing pieces. Ask the question.

Anna Harden

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