By Raymond Klein *
An Opinion piece by Toby Muresianu in the Brentwood News on February 15, 2021, contained the following:
“Single family home-only zoning was created to segregate neighborhoods, but that doesn’t mean individual homeowners are “being called racist.”
Brentwood, like many neighborhoods, maintained segregation by using zoning to restrict residence to a 100% white wealth bracket as courts struck down widespread racial deed restrictions.
Happily, views have changed since then. However, these laws weren’t repealed, so they’re often still working as designed: restricting residents to a wealth bracket that’s overwhelmingly white. As such, they’re cited as examples of “systemic racism” and help explain why Brentwood remains 85% white in a 30% white city. However, this is a critique of laws, not physical homes or their owners.”
That is an insult to the past and current residents of Brentwood. Toby’s words imply that the intention of adopting single-family zoning was to create a segregated neighborhood, and that Brentwood homeowners who want to maintain single-family zoning are doing so in order to restrict ownership to white residents. Toby’s conclusion is an example of the fallacy of reasoning that says when a certain event follows another event, it must have been the intended cause of the first event. The rooster crows before sunrise; therefore the rooster causes the sun to rise.
Zoning in the Santa Monica mountains hillsides was done with the intention of preserving open space and limiting population growth in an area that has limited infrastructure and is vulnerable to wildfires. The intent was to ensure that the neighborhood doesn’t have more residents than its sewers, schools, and roads can handle. Also, families who sink their savings into a home wanted to know what to expect could be built in the neighborhood around their home. The campaign to prohibit apartments was an attempt to maintain the semi-rural character of the area, and was motivated by the desire to conserve property values, curb traffic congestion, and have adequate fire protection in an area with narrow roads and flammable flora. Accusing people who want their homes to maintain and increase their property value to be motivated by racial prejudice is a shameful attempt to limit an open discussion about land use.
There is no question there is income inequality in our country, but it is irrational to assert that the inequality is caused by current zoning laws. There is no restriction on the buying opportunity of anyone who can afford any commodity, including a home. Are the companies that make a Ferrari or Porsche racist because their cars are expensive? The fallacy of describing single-family zoning as racist is demonstrated by the opposition to proposed State legislation (similar to what Toby is advocating for) from Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager who is a Black woman and represents Baldwin Hills, the Crenshaw community, all of Culver City, Ladera Heights, Leimert Park, Mar Vista, Mid-City Los Angeles, Palms, Pico-Union, Westwood and Windsor Hills. Last August, she spoke about minority home ownership and overcoming the myth that single family homeowners are rich, white, and exclusive. She was protecting her constituents of color who had invested in single-family homes and would likely be the first to suffer gentrification and displacement by the Bills supported by Toby. Our former City Council President, Herb Wesson, who is a Black man, described the legislation supported by Toby as: “the biggest attack on the residential integrity in our community that I can remember. Plus, it will create additional pathways to gentrification. It’s also saying, “Local control, be damned. You don’t know what you’re doing.” “
Elsewhere in Toby’s Opinion piece, he states: “Brentwood will remain a fundamentally upscale [read “expensive”] neighborhood under any proposed zoning reforms.” He also states: “Changing expensive restrictions offers a twofold benefit: allowing subsidies to help more people and allowing new, inexpensive supply to keep rents down.” So which is it — Brentwood will still be expensive after destroying single-family zoning, or inexpensive? And if expensive, which Toby says restricts “residents to a wealth bracket that’s overwhelmingly white”, will he still maintain that it is the zoning that causes “systemic racism”?
There is no dispute that there is a housing crisis. Across the country, median home prices have increased at four times the rate of household incomes since 1960. But upzoning to allow 8 housing units on what is now a single-family lot in Brentwood will not solve the housing crisis, nor racism. Bringing racial injustice into a discussion about zoning is pointless. Solving the housing crisis requires (1) Federal and State money to build public housing that would be unprofitable for private developers, (2) higher wages and/or subsidies to defray housing costs, and (3) upgrading the infrastructure in areas with significant population growth.
* Raymond Klein is a member of the Boards of the Brentwood Community Council and the Brentwood Homeowners Association; however, the foregoing is his personal view and may not represent the position or views of those organizations.