One of the big potential advantages to a federalist system of government is that states can function as so-called laboratories of democracy.

Ideas that work well in some places might prove unsuitable to others, while policies that show great results in one spot can be adopted voluntarily by people living elsewhere.

Well, California is now one big experiment in virtual one-party rule. And on one of the state’s most troubling issues — housing — the latest news confirms that the experiment has been a failure.

Democrats weren’t able to stop the statewide shortage of affordable housing, especially in the bluest cities with their wealthiest and most loyal partisans. And now that it’s here with a vengeance, Democrats can’t decide what to do about it either. Even their own core policy preferences, it now seems, would run afoul of one of their increasingly extremist views.

Consider the farce playing out in San Francisco over the issue. After decades of beating the doctrinaire drum for more high-density housing tethered to public transportation sites, many liberals are now in a panic over a proposal by state Sen. Scott Weiner, D-San Francisco, to address the urban housing crisis by “upzoning” every neighborhood in the state that’s built around mass transit.

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You’d think that, for Democrats, Weiner’s defense of the idea ticks every box. “The lack of housing affordability is harming our state’s economy as companies consider moving elsewhere because their workers can’t find a place to live,” he argues. “It is severely undermining our climate goals as we push people into longer and longer commutes. It harms our diversity as lower income people and people of color are pushed out of urban cores. It undermines the health of communities and families.”

But, remarkably, Weiner has run up against feverish resistance from the left. The statewide Sierra Club opposes the plan. L.A.’s Crenshaw Subway Coalition compared Weiner’s ambitions to the notorious Indian Removal Act promulgated by Andrew Jackson. The League of California Cities is against it. Even the San Francisco City Planning Department is up in arms.

They don’t like how, in order to develop properties, property developers have to get paid. And the bigger the development, the bigger the payday.

But they also reason, albeit belatedly, that the same low-income residents they dreamed of populating California’s new urban transit centers are apt to be priced out of real-world new developments.

And they’re furious that Silicon Valley’s millionaires and billionaires, upon whom the California budget all but depends, pushed real estate values so high on the peninsula that San Francisco itself became (even more) cost-prohibitive to normal people.

It’s an ugly clash of policies, priorities, and principles. And it’s sad proof that the so-called “blue state model” of big taxes, big budgets, and big cities is now badly malfunctioning even on its own terms, with virtually no organized opposition.

The wisdom of federalism is that one size doesn’t fit all. One-party rule tends to flout that hard-earned understanding, whether at the national level or the state level. But state Democrats have spent so long in power that their ideals have grown distorted and destructive — not just to the public good, but to each other. Without fresh humility, they’re in for more hard lessons. And so are Californians as a whole.


(c)2018 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)

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