Limiting Local Control to Save California’s Soul


At first blush, the story of 3333 California Street might read like satire: riled up neighbors successfully convincing bureaucrats that the city’s one- time “suburbanization” bears special historic significance⎯so much so that preserving that legacy trumps contemporary efforts to densify urban spaces in order to meet regional housing needs.

But readers who are already steeped in California housing politics can read darker themes into the fate of 3333 California: as a stark embodiment of a land use regime that gives existing homeowners significant, wide-ranging powers to dictate the terms of local housing development. Indeed, 3333 California Street is just one of scores of proposed housing projects in California’s urban centers that have been forestalled indefinitely by legal maneuvering from existing residents.9 In essence, the intensely local nature of zoning law in California means that the state’s private homeowners have been able to systematically resist growth and change in their neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, with new development stalled, affordable housing grows more out of reach for Californians by the day⎯while those very homeowners reap the attendant benefits of increased property values.


  • Evelyn Danforth, Limiting Local Control to Save California's Soul, 29 Stan. L. & Pol'y Rev. 1 (2019).