Thomas Sowell

It is a sad but understandable fact that there are many places where the poor cannot afford to buy a house. California has the distinction of having many places where the affluent cannot afford to buy or build a house -- and it is not necessarily a slam dunk for the rich.
A couple in San Mateo County who own 18 acres of land have spent more than a year and a half trying to get a preliminary permit, just so that they can then apply for other permits to eventually build just one house on those 18 acres.

 Even "open space" zealots should have to admit that one house on 18 acres is hardly the bogeyman of "overcrowding" that they invoke when they try to stop anybody from building anything. Whether this particular couple will be stopped only the future can tell.

 If they are in good health and take care of themselves, they may yet live long enough to actually see the house built and move into it. At a recent meeting of the San Mateo County planning commission, a 30-page staff report showed how many hoops this couple had jumped through thus far. And they now have only the preliminary permit that allows them to go seek other permits.

 The planning commission staff report speaks volumes about what is wrong with the process of building even a single house in those parts of California where environmental zealots abound.

 The planning commission staff has taken it upon itself to analyze just where this one house can be allowed to be built on these 18 acres of land, so as to reduce its "visibility" from local highways. The bureaucrats want to "soften the visual impact of the development" -- that is, this couple's house.

 The irony of this concern for aesthetics is that some of the ugliest land in California is part of the "open space" that some people rhapsodize about. Part of this space is brown withered grass throughout the long rain-less summer. When you see green grass in California during the summer, that is usually where people live and have sprinklers.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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