California saw dense housing near transit as its future. What now?

SAN FRANCISCO – As the Californians get used to 6 feet of social distancing, the coronavirus could deter the state’s efforts to build more homes near public transportation to resolve the housing crisis.

Governor Gavin Newsom and Democratic leaders have campaigned for urban living to address the ever-increasing cost of living in California. They prefer this approach to continuing the state’s legacy of expanding highways and suburbs that take advantage of California’s enormous geographic location – which has resulted in emissions pollution and neighborhoods in forest fire zones.

The Democrats’ argument had grown in importance, especially among younger residents who were desperate for cheaper housing and less interested in car ownership. It was also a weapon in Newsom’s fight against homelessness, a painful subject that drew President Donald Trump’s anger for months.

But the corona virus is likely to stand in the way of this dynamic. Opponents of infill and transit-oriented development blame population density as the main factor driving the pandemic in urban areas, largely due to the exponential increase in coronavirus cases and deaths in New York. Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo also conceded this week when he explained why the virus has been found in 15 times as many New Yorkers as California.

“We have one of the densest and narrowest environments in the country,” he said on Wednesday. “And that’s why the virus communicated as it did. Our proximity makes us vulnerable.”

Americans on social media are expressing a newfound appreciation for suburban homes and cars. Buses and trains are empty because the residents stay at home and work remotely.

“I think it will have an absolute impact on people’s appetite for housing density,” said Susan Kirsch, founder of the Livable California group that led the Capitol’s struggle against building high-density projects. Kirsch is skeptical of Newsom’s estimate that California will need 3.5 million additional homes by 2025.

Even in a world before the corona virus, California housing relocation was facing challenges. Cities and counties that were used to controlling their growth plans were annoyed that the state told them to build up instead of out. Low-income residents feared a wave of gentrification of condominiums, which would force them into the outermost suburbs with long commuting routes.

For two years, Senator Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat, has drawn battle lines over bills. His proposals had forced local governments to allow more homes near transit stations and office buildings, but they died under intense resistance.

In California, there are still 30 bills trying to boost housing production, including a new one from Wiener, which allows more duplex, triplex, and fourplex bills depending on the size of a city. Newsom said in its State of the State address last month that it wanted more housing “especially close to transit and downtown”.

However, the landscape changed overnight. Wiener said he fully expected opponents to trigger the corona virus.

“Of course, people will misuse the coronavirus pandemic for other political goals,” said Wiener. “Some of the anti-housing activists have the reason that living in a dense urban environment is somehow unhealthy. I am confident that they will stick to it.”

During the New York City outbreak made headlines and generated articles nail the blame on urban density and Prediction of population shifts In the suburbs and suburbs, Wiener points to the relative success of crowded cities like Singapore and Hong Kong in containing the spread of the virus.

“This contagion is not about whether you live in a densely populated or a less densely populated area. It is about whether you have had a good response to a public health pandemic and Hong Kong and Singapore have had a fantastic response.” said Wiener. “The US didn’t do that. It’s not because of the density or the lack of density, but because they did a good job and we did a bad job.”

Experts say that viruses are undoubtedly easier to spread to denser areas, but it is too easy to make a direct link between population density and the likelihood of being infected with the corona virus. The largely suburban Santa Clara County and New Rochelle, New York, are also among the most affected regions in the country.

“Density is a really important factor, but it needs to be unpacked,” said Benjamin Dalziel, a professor of biology and mathematics at Oregon State University, who wrote one Study in 2018 It found that large cities suffer seasonal flu pandemics over a longer period of time and with a more constant rate of spread, while less dense cities have higher transmission rates that can affect the capacity of health systems.

“I don’t think density is either bad or good. I can’t care about that idea of ​​things,” he said.

While New York has been the epicenter of the outbreak so far, the patchy tests there and across the country make it much more difficult to say whether there are more cases in New York than are expected due to its size and how much worse it is than in other areas.

“Because we don’t have extensive testing, we can’t really know how high these fall rates are, and we really can’t compare urban centers to urban centers, which could happen in New York compared to San Francisco,” said Kathryn Conlon, a Environmental epidemiologist at the University of California at Davis. “Your testing options can be different, so it’s really difficult to compare apples to apples there.”

Proponents of housing density also have the relatively slow reaction of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio to the pandemic as ammunition.

“Two weeks ago, the Mayor of New York insisted that people still go to restaurants, still go to clubs, still go to the gym,” said Matt Lewis, spokesman for California YIMBY, who supports Wieners bill and many others that would promote more affordable housing. “This is a government failure.”

Epidemiologists agree that New York should not be seen as a referendum on how vulnerable urban centers are to the virus. The early spread of the disease in New York City “says little about the effectiveness of strong public health interventions such as those in Wuhan, Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore,” said Steven Goodman, Stanford University epidemiologist. “These show that social distancing, along with other measures to suppress epidemics, can also be effective in overcrowded urban centers.”

Proponents of the California construction industry say viral pandemics will take their place among the other diverse threats to the state, including forest fires and the ever-present risk of earthquakes.

“California is designed to have every potential risk under the sun somewhere in the state,” said Dan Dunmoyer, president and CEO of the California Building Industry Association. “You push people from the wild country into the urban areas, you have the greatest possible seismic risk. … You return to the urban areas, you have Covid. As we see it, you simply have to do it wisely.”

Corona virus adaptation could include new plumbing and HVAC designs that minimize disease transmission, said Scott Wetch, a lobbyist who represents unions. He indicated that one phase of the SARS coronavirus epidemic was in 2003 attributed to an apartment complex in Hong Kong where, through the installation, virus-laden droplets could circulate through the apartments in the bathroom drains.

“We can build denser dwellings and should and should do so safely as long as we don’t disparage building standards,” he said. “Dense living conditions are a better way to spread, and we’ve seen that in New York City. That’s why the numbers in New York are ten times higher than across the country, but I don’t think you can just ignore the effects of climate change. “

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