Livable California is now the most recognizable brand among a class of new groups protesting the state’s home moves. For example, the groups organize neighborhood associations and produce research that exaggerates the idea of a shortage. (This accusation is at odds with the amount of research on the subject, the state’s low per capita construction rate, and its abundance of illegal and overcrowded homes.)
Many of the most active members hail from wealthy enclaves like Marin, but the struggle to maintain local control over housing attracts a more diverse group than the cliche of wealthy suburban NIMBY would suggest. In California and across the country, activists fighting urban gentrification often join forces with development-concerned suburban homeowners to oppose sweeping zoning reforms. Even when these groups disagree on housing policies, they often favor these decisions being made at the city or neighborhood level, where the political sphere is small enough that a group of volunteers can still be effective.
“Community activists organize personally,” said Isaiah Madison, 26, black, a resident of Los Angeles’ Black Leimert Park historic neighborhood — and a board member of Livable California. “But if you take it to the state, you’re just a number. There are so many problems and so much bureaucracy and politics and money that community is lost.”
Over the course of several interviews, many of the most active homeowners expressed a sense of regression to the upper middle class. It seems unfair to them that people who have done exactly what society has told them to do—buy a home, get involved in their neighborhood—are now being asked to embrace big changes in their communities.
Above all, they’re angry at how an epithet like “NIMBY” can reduce someone who cares about their neighborhood to a cartoon. Yes, they are the anti-development people. These are also the people who make and distribute lawn signs. Attending nightly town meetings to ask probing questions about bids for the town’s dog trapping contract. Who organize the block party and help start library programs that everyone else takes for granted.
“The state is insane trying to make all of these cities its enemy,” said Maria Pavlou Kalban, who serves on the board of directors of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association and recently founded a statewide homeowners and neighborhood group called United Neighbors. “These are people who are really serious about trying to answer the ‘Where do our children live?’ problem.”
However, when the conversation shifts to solutions, the conundrum of local control reappears. In an interview, Ms Kalban outlined a plan to build higher-density housing along busy corridors, which sounds perfectly reasonable. It also sounds like the townhouses Mr. Richardson has been trying to build since 2004.