Join Us:

Bear Essentials: The Cost of Not Building Housing in California

August 24, 2023

When you love something, you work to change it. That’s the vibe we’re going with for this week’s Bear Essentials.

  • Hydrogen cars need fueling stations, so CA is building them
  • Help buying electric cars for low and middle-income Californians
  • Unions want to see more housing built, but that wasn’t always the case


Ah, California, where the sun shines bright but the cost-of-living blinds you. We’ve all had our fill of California Exodus™ stories, this one’s got a new wrinkle: First responders, California’s trusted local heroes, are now getting frequent flier miles just to clock into work. We’re talking insane commutes, folks. Firefighters (we like them!) are pulling up stakes and headed to greener (and cheaper) pastures in places as far flung as Tennessee, Alabama and Alaska. (On the bright side, think of how many podcasts you can mainline on your way to work!) And while a white-picket fence in Montana sounds dreamy, it’s probably not the most sustainable, desirable solution for our first responders, their families, or our state. “[The rise in cost of living] outpaces my raises and income. So, we finally just ran the numbers and figured out it would be cheaper to live out of state and have me commute back,” said Kyle Conforti, a 40-year-old firefighter who works at the Orange County fire authority while living in Nashville, Tennessee. “If we could afford to live in California, we 100% would not have moved.”

Not great!


🤫 Everything you should know

- Downer alert! There are no hydrogen cars in CA because we haven’t built stations. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act unlocked billions in federal incentives to fund the fueling technology because hydrogen-powered vehicles should be a huge part of the country’s path to zero-carbon energy. But a low-key battle is playing out over how much California should focus on hydrogen while the “electrify everything” chants grow louder. There are good reasons to diversify our energy stocks, and more investment should result in additional consumer uptake. What’s more, there are certain use-cases where hydrogen fuel cells simply make more sense than battery-electric, such as long-haul trucking and instances where rapid refueling is required. In true California fashion, we should be leading the way for the rest of the country in carbon neutrality and supporting such an important technology instead of falling prey to the tired “iT’s eXPenSiVE” narrative. We said that about solar panels and now look at us! CalMatters.

- California’s clean vehicle rebate program will transition to helping low-income residents – which is exactly what our state needs to transition to zero-carbon vehicles while not burdening low and middle-income people with the bill. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) released data showing California’s carbon zero goals will, in total, cost households making less than $100K per year $5 billion, while richer Californians will gain $5 billion! This clearly shows that lower and middle income families are losing money with the plans California is implementing to the benefit of the wealthy. That’s a huge wealth transfer and it’s a policy decision. The state’s Clean Cars 4 All program will expand statewide to offer low and middle-income households “$12,000 to scrap and replace older, polluting cars with cleaner alternatives, or will offer additional assistance up to $7,500 in vehicle purchase grants for car buyers not scrapping an older vehicle.” California can be a clean energy leader and support lower-income residents. Both things are possible! California Air Resources Board.

- If you want to understand why it’s been so hard to pass pro-housing legislation in California, read this article in Vox. But is that a light at the end of the tunnel we see? Housing activists and labor unions are beginning to form alliances in support of affordable housing legislation. This is a significant departure from the hard line many unions have taken in the past out of concerns that ramped up production will cheapen the trade and reduce worker protections. Based on recent events, the tide may be turning. One big change happened in 2021 with the election of Jay Bradshaw who now leads the Northern California Carpenters Regional Council. In 2022, Asm. Buffy Wicks was able to come to the table with labor and create a compromise with AB 2011, “a bill that would fast-tracks affordable housing development of old office buildings, strip malls, and parking lots in exchange for paying workers the prevailing wage.” It’s proof that relationships and political landscapes can change, and nothing is set in stone. Vox.

🏠 A plan to get us out of the woods

The NCC doesn’t just talk the talk, we walk the walk with our Ten-Point Plan for Housing Affordability which outlines changes California can implement to jumpstart homebuilding. We are 3 million units short which drives up the cost of housing (no, it’s not the fault of developers that housing is so expensive in California). Personally, I’m a fan of #8 that establishes maximum timelines for local approval. Long, drawn out timelines increase the unpredictability and cost of building housing in California. We can change that with policy reforms.

The 10 Point Housing Plan

🏕 State Parks Re-Opening

Yet another story that was DEFINITELY not on our 2023 bingo card… a hurricane in California (coupled with a simultaneous earthquake). Several popular national parks in southern California were completely washed out by the downpours this past week and were forced to close. Joshua Tree National Park just announced they will be able to partially reopen this weekend, on the condition that visitors watch out for the tortoises that might be hanging out looking for a sip of water. Luckily, many of the campers and hikers who were at the parks before the storm hit were able to emerge unscathed. So, that’s your sign to plan a trip and enjoy some parks this weekend!

🧠 Brain and music

Something awesome!! Neuroscientists at UC Berkeley were able to reconstruct the recording of a song from analyzing electrical signals from the auditory cortex in the brain, the part that processes music. Other than just being awesome, this research is very promising for individuals with neurological conditions that cause communication difficulties and might require brain implants. This also proves we can capture the musical elements of speech, including prosody (rhythm, stress, accent, and intonation) purely from electrical signals in the brain. Queue “Learning to Fly” Z🎵

Brain Recordings

🏛 Cudgel that is CEQA

SF based urban planner Max Dubler is enlightening Twitter (we’re just not calling it ‘X’) with escapades of how Montecito homeowners tried to use CEQA to illegally block parking near a public trail. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

Cudgel that is CEQA