I’m thinking about two things

I’m thinking about how Batman: The Animated Series still slaps. I bought it from iTunes ($35 for the whole series!) (why don’t I have any money?) for the plane ride to Ohio to visit my grandparents and mom and sister and others. Had a wonderful time. Met my cousin’s baby.

I’m also thinking about NIMBYs. On Friday, a real person tweeted: “So done w/ the critique that someone living in a $1.5 mil house is rich. My neighborhood was a happily rundown until 4 yrs ago, when it was ‘discovered.’ It’s still a lot of working/middle class plus retirees scraping by. Many didn’t ask for/want the speculation & gentrification”

I responded: “If you don’t want your house to be worth millions and your property taxes to go up, approve multi-family housing nearby. This isn’t rocket science. This didn’t just happen to these people. They fought hard to keep their property values high and now want to complain.”

In other words, I responded in my typical measured, empathetic way.

But thinking more deeply about NIMBYs, I kind of empathize with their point of view. Not on property taxes. The average Californian pays $5,354 per year. We have the lowest personal property taxes in the nation, and the highest home values. That’s kind of fucked up.

But I get the perspective that these people didn’t ask for tens of thousands of people to try to move into their neighborhoods. I think many of them didn’t hate that their property values rose significantly as demand increased and supply was kept steady. By them. But they weren’t given a choice about rising demand. And given the choice between a lot of new neighbors and rising property values, they made a choice. They made the choice that best suited their ends. And that’s really the problem with democracy. When you make it a zero-sum game and tell everyone to make a choice, people are going to choose self-interestedly a whole lot of the time. Don’t design a system where good outcomes depend on people reliably sacrificing their own best interests. NIMBYs aren’t really the problem. Local control is the problem.

Yes, NIMBYs are incredibly selfish. They’re keeping everyone but the wealthiest and most safety-net-having ambitious people who want a better life for themselves locked out of the opportunity to not only make their lives better but all of our lives better as a result of the work they could do here. They’re not only making SF poorer than it could be, those ambitious people poorer than they could be, but all of America and arguably the world poorer than we could be. All to protect their neighborhood character.

Then again, what kind of system says “You can choose what’s theoretically best for people you’ve never met but you have to give up your home and community as you know it and become surrounded (and eventually outnumbered) by backpack-wearing animals who ride their scooters on the fucking sidewalk.”

That simply cannot be a choice for people. Because everyone will make the wrong choice. To expect old, entitled, wealthy white people to not behave like old, entitled, wealthy white people doesn’t make them insane. It makes the system-designers insane. Aka the voters. Aka the voters should rise up against the landed classes and seize their legal right to tell others what to do with their property.

Abolish zoning. Abolish discretionary review. Repeal Prop 13.

Re-watch Batman: The Animated Series.

One Comment

  1. If we abolish zoning then we would create fief’s. and the natural arrival of fief’s include new law. the land would become ‘usage’ not ownership.
    p.s. I like your work.
    reality 1. san franscisco means st. francis of assisi, patron of Italy

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