I am in the camp of people who, upon driving past the increasingly large piles of rubble that were once portions of the Seaport Marina Hotel, feel an uplifting sense of relief that that eyesore is finally getting demolished.
Yeah, I said it. And I’m not taking it back, either.
When a place is used in two seasons of a hit show about a serial killer who kills serial killers (that would be “Dexter,” for you non-pop-culture-versed folk), what does that tell you? That it’s the kind of place you put up your family members when they come to town? I don’t think so.
When was the last time you saw the parking lot of that place full? When do you recall it looking like anything other than a desolate motel-turned-quasi-residence? I have no such recollections, with the exception of the days its parking lot served as the location for Christmas tree sales.
That essentially useless, huge plot of land could have been a bustling shopping center complete with residences and a hotel by now, had it not been for some folks concerned about migrating birds smacking into windows, folks lamenting the good old days when Elvis Presley stayed there (newsflash, folks: the King has been dead for a while now, and so has this hotel) and local NIMBYs (“Not In My Backyard”-ers) who don’t want more people, and therefore more traffic, near their homes. The owner got stuck in this mire for years and finally conceded to a reduced height/density development with no residences and no hotel, yet people are STILL complaining.
Meanwhile, many Long Beach residents are absolutely freaking out over proposed changes in density and allowed building heights as outlined in the Land Use Element update, even though city staff listened to their outrage and ended up reducing a lot of the original proposal. Despite efforts to placate, people are still so incensed that they’ve now even launched a Change.org campaign to fire City Manager Pat West and Long Beach Development Services Director Amy Bodek, who have endured endless hollering as they just try to do their jobs.
This is all happening at a time when the state is in a housing crisis because we are annually under-building by 100,000 residential units, which are needed to accommodate population growth, as California Association of Realtors President Geoff McIntosh has told me with some urgency on several occasions. This crisis has resulted in a short supply of homes and, thus, rising rents and home prices.
It should come as no surprise that, in addition to low-income individuals, this seriously impacts the Millennial generation, now at an age where they should be forming their own households (i.e., moving out of mom and dad’s place).
As a result, our generation seems to be leading a counter-movement appropriately dubbed YIMBY – Yes, In My Backyard.
In San Francisco, where real estate is incredibly expensive, the politically active nonprofit YIMBY Action was formed in January this year to advocate for housing policy changes that would encourage infill developments. The four-person staff are all Millennials, as are about two-thirds of the organization’s membership, according to Executive Director Laura Foote Clark.
Clark said that there are more than 100 cities and towns in the Bay Area, each with their own set of regulations, taxes and incentives around housing development. Clark said that many communities welcome the jobs afforded by the area’s booming tech industry, but do not wish to create new housing to accommodate them.
“It’s a very traditional American thing, to move to where there are jobs,” Clark said. “It sort of doesn’t get more traditional than that. And I think Millennials are the first generation that are being treated like scum for wanting to move to where there are jobs, and [are] being told that they are acting entitled for the idea that they want shelter near where there’s work.”
Resistance to new housing often boils down to the fact that some people just don’t like change, Clark said. “They’re like, ‘If you add more people I’ll just be stuck in traffic,’” she said. “And we’re like, ‘No, we’ll have buses and transit and we’ll just like think differently about society.’ And they’re like, ‘That’s impossible, we can’t do that. Everything is terrible and it’s only going to get worse!’” Clark’s perspective? “We went to the moon one time and, like, we’re capable of doing things.”
OK, so she shares the Californian Millennial penchant for overusing the word “like,” but that doesn’t make her point any less valid. In fact, the back-and-forth she’s describing often takes place in Long Beach when new developments come up for approval.
“People, especially Millennials, are trying to choose urban lifestyles,” Clark said. “They are trying to not own cars. They want to be able to walk to the grocery store. They want to live near their job.” In support of such desires, YIMBY Action advocates for more infill developments and density via zoning and entitlement process reform.
With a dash of early-Tim Burton suburban macabre, Clark reflected: “Imagine if you could just get everything you need in town instead of being locked into a horrific sprawling suburb where you have to get into your two-ton motor vehicle to get a gallon of milk.” (The horror!) Dramatic flourishes aside, again, she has a point.
YIMBY Millennial activism has even crept into my own family. My brother, Richard, who lives in Sunnyvale – a Bay Area city – has gotten so fed up with the housing crisis and astronomical cost of living that he has taken to speaking at city council meetings in support of more housing. A councilmember even recently asked him to meet to discuss his concerns.
Please excuse this bit of nepotism for quoting my brother, but the dude is spot on: “The wealth that the tech industry is creating could be a pathway into the middle class for thousands. Instead, it’s displacing communities and impoverishing families, for the simple reason that we don’t have enough housing.”
And that, folks, is why, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, 66% of Millennials support more housing in the state. Let’s hope the crisis never gets as bad in Long Beach as it is in the Bay. Perhaps a little injection of Millennial YIMBYism wouldn’t hurt.