NIMBYs: The Real Culprit in California’s “Great Replacement”

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The 2020 census results reveal that the nation’s White population shrank for the first time in history and in California “The share of white Californians plummeted from 40% to 35%, a decline of 1.2 million people,” or by 8.3%. There was a White decline of 640,00 thousand over just the past four years (a 3% drop) while the state’s “Asian population increased by nearly 7%, or about 360,000 people and its Latino population increased by 418,000 people, an almost 3% jump.” California’s Black and American Indian populations also a saw a decline, albeit more modest.

The census’ demographic results have become part of an extremely politicized culture war, with prominent liberals celebrating the White decline. In response to this jubilation, Tucker Carlson said that Democrats are intentionally accelerating demographic change for political advantage and many in the establishment have accused Tucker Carlson of espousing the controversial Great Replacement theory holding that powerful interests are intentionally engineering demographic change. America’s “minority majority” status is an inevitability and California has had no racial majority since 2001. Pew Research’s recent poll on attitudes about the declining share of White people in the US, shows a net negative to positive response margin, in which a higher number represents a more negative attitude toward the change. The poll yielded the highest number among Whites: 15, and then Blacks: -1, Hispanics: -4, and Asians -9. It also revealed a major divide between Conservatives: 35, and Liberals: -25.

Racial identity politics has also been linked to the housing debate with the recently passed SB9, which reforms zoning and could eliminate single-family zoning in California, being described by Calmatter’s Manuela Tobias as having ending zoning that has “deeply racist roots,” and “to many California housing advocates, eliminating what they call “exclusionary zoning” is a symbolic and necessary act.” Kendra Noel Lewis, executive director of Sacramento’s Housing Alliance, said that “This is about getting rid of symbols of segregation and racism”. Tucker Carlson, who was born in California, has taken a stance aligned with the NIMBY side in the debate over zoning and many on the right associate zoning reform with the sort of “Great Replacement” inspired zoning policy that is used to engineer demographic changes.

California’s population growth is stagnant with a massive exodus out of the state and fertility rates that are plummeting. The exodus out of California and declining fertility rates impacts all groups but the reason the White population has declined more than others is primarily that there is no White in-migration to offset the decline. The White population declined in most of California but some of the cities and communities where the White population did numerically increase include:

Ladera Ranch (0.4%) and Irvine (8.2%) in Orange County, Beaumont (4%) in Riverside County, Marina Del Rey (18.7%), Ladera Heights (8.6%), and View Park-Windsor Hills (67.9%), in LA County, Rosedale (11.6%) in Kern County, Coarsegold (95.7%) and Oakhurst (85.2%) in Madera County, Emeryville (6.8%) in Alameda County, Camino Tassajara (67%) in Contra Costa County, Mountain House (50.6%) in San Joaquin County, Rio Vista (12.7%) in Solano County, Carmichael (8.1%) in Sacramento County, Eldorado Hills (3.3%) in Eldorado County, Roseville (2.8%), Rocklin (4.6%) and, Lincoln (2.6%) in Placer County, and Oroville (7.9%) as well as Chico (2.6%) in Butte County. The White population declined in all California counties but was the least severe in Placer County at only -0.8%.

The top 10 California cities by percentage population growth include those where the White population increased such as in rural Oroville and the more urban Emeryville but include others that saw their White population decline, albeit more modestly than the many slower growing cities. What these areas have in common is lots of new construction, both sprawl and urban infill, which facilitates and maintains population growth amongst all groups. In the very diverse Irvine, the White proportion declined from 50.5% in 2010 to 37.7% in 2020 but saw a numeric increase by 8.2%. Irvine is one of the more pro-growth cities in California but in nearby Newport Beach, which is very White at 78.2% but also very NIMBY, the White population saw a 10.4% numeric decline. The same is true with the Bay Area where diverse communities with more new construction such as Emeryville and Camino Tassajara saw White growth while more homogenously White slow growth cities saw their White population decline. The LA Times’s new census population chart for LA, which actually excludes Whites as a category, shows the trend of faster growing areas having a lot of new construction such as Playa Vista, Downtown LA, and Century City, with implications that pro-growth housing policies are White positive.

Due to the cost of living it is extremely difficult to start a family in California, even for the upper middle class. Trends in fertility correlate with rents and housing costs and data shows that high housing costs reduce fertility. The SF Chronicle has an article on the exodus of Californians that are Fueling Austin’s Housing Frenzy, with an interview with an upper middle class White family of four relocating from the Bay Area to Austin, Texas. The main reason for the family relocating is the cost of housing, besides quality of life concerns including social capital.

Limiting new construction tends to stifle the growth of all groups but Whites have a more engrained mentality that one needs an adequate amount of living space in order to raise a family and are more likely to leave an area when housing is scarce. Limiting the housing supply is a main reason that California’s White population has drastically declined. Left-YIMBYs will often say that NIMBYs are eugenicists but the City of LA Draft Housing Element Study found that many of LA’s wealthy single family home areas had a dramatic decline in the number of children and young adults. In many well-off suburbs the White decline is more family units downsizing to empty nesters, as children head off to college, on top of a lack of new construction to accommodate White growth, rather than outright demographic replacement.

The debate over housing has been framed in terms of age and race with the meme of diverse youthful YIMBY activists vs. crusty old White NIMBYs, and Business Insider describing the passing of SB9 as a Millennial victory over Boomers. There are several different angles to NIMBYism including a radical anti-population growth mentality in California such as a Silicon Valley NIMBY posting on Nextdoor, flat out wanting to keep out younger families to preserve their community for Senior Citizens, and a NIMBY group successfully battling against a proposed widening of Berkeley’s enrollment cap. Other motives include those wanting to keep out perceived undesirables as well as a kind of fusion between NIMBYism and progressive politics where new housing is ok as long as it’s a small number of just low-income units. The progressive NIMBY group gaslightlingly-named Housing is a Human Right is urging Newsom to veto SB9 as well as SB10 which allows cities to increase density around transit, on anti-gentrification grounds.

Besides NIMBYism restricting growth for all, there is something uniquely parasitic about the compromise where NIMBY concerns are appeased alongside “progressive” policies that block market rate housing to only allow a limited number of new low-income units. This arrangement of NIMBYism fused with regressive left policies on issues such as education has had dire implications on White population growth. The city of LA, which encapsulates this mentality, saw a whopping decline in its White population by 28% while its overall population stagnated, growing by just 2.8% over the past decade.

This arrangement is unsustainable and hopefully will soon to be replaced with the Sb9 and 10 bills to increase density that are awaiting Governor Newsom’s  signature. If implemented these bills will have major implications for California’s economic, and demographic structure, as California will likely see the biggest building boom in decades. I predict that the 2030 census will show more population growth in California compared to 2020, including possibly minimizing further White decline, if SB9 and 10 are implemented.

Contrasting two properties for sale, a single family home versus a unit in a 4plex in the same well-off neighborhood on LA’s Westside: the differences in price is $3.6 Million for the single family home versus $1.5 million for the 4plex unit. While the 4plex is fairly expensive, this comparison shows the impact that the implementation of SB9 would have across California. The class and demographic implications would be different, for example, in a middle class suburb in the Inland Empire. SB9 would not just ease the overall costs for lower income Californians, but could help upper middle class families get a foothold in areas that are either ultra-wealthy or geriatric. There is the added opportunity for families to create new units within their properties for relatives or the splitting up of property among heirs.

The short term up-zoning of SB9 could help retain White Californians, besides benefiting Californians of all background. Because of the sheer number of people who would love to live in California, we could attract many people from all over the nation. I predict that if we further delay up-zoning then most of the growth will come from overseas as California will have hemorrhaged much more of its White population and the demographic of would-be domestic migrants will have decreased as well. With immigrant ethnoburbs: SB9 would allow them to grow in density, thereby lessening the tendency for inhabitants of these ethnoburbs to expand into surrounding areas leading to potential dispossession.  The danger of exacerbating the current affordability crisis by resisting the inevitable YIMBY future, is that it creates a power vacuum where we could actually see the kind of dystopian polices that populists warn about.

Those who want to turn California’s demographic composition back to the past are delusional, but the key point is that up-zoning increases growth among all groups. California cherishes diversity and even our conservatives accept that diversity is a reality in California. Zoning reform accommodates newcomers and diversifies the composition of areas and this fits with the California narrative that one can be pro-diversification yet also concerned about the numerical decline, rapid ageing and decline in social capital of White communities. The loss of White communities, too, can be viewed as a diminishing of the mosaic that makes diversity great. California has a unique kind of multi-culturalism where we love our Latino brothers, our Asian brothers, our African Americans brothers, and our European American brothers. The regressive left bashes California regions like the Bay Area for being too segregated, but don’t understand how enclavism is an integral part of the great California mosaic.

While the new zoning framework on local control is flawed from a pluralist and enclavist standpoint, it also provides an opportunity to help groups thrive and grow on their own paths. California shall build communities for African descended Californians , Latino descended Californians, European descended Californians, and Asian descended California, and for them to raise families, to be prosperous and thrive. We welcome immigrants to come here and build their enclaves and welcome Whites to do the same. These are California values: a progressive can-do mentality that is beyond the division and racial strife of the rest of America.

Revisiting California’s relationship with America’s narrative over the Great Replacement, the rightwing populist strategy and media portrayal doesn’t take into account the full picture in California, especially on the zoning debate. For instance a Middle class White Republican Fox News viewer from a Red State might have an image of section 8 housing recipients moving into their suburb but that argument is not applicable to the West Side of LA or the Bay Area, where there is a struggles to even build high-end housing. Not to mention that if Red States don’t want Californians moving in, they should lay-off critiquing our push to build more. The degree that I agree with the Great Replacement Theory is that there is a push to normalize austerity among the historically largest, most prosperous group in America. Building more quality urban development is the opposite of austerity.

The right’s narrative of avoiding diversity is not the primary cause of White Flight in California but rather practical reasons such as housing are the real culprit. While Critical Race Theory is extremely divisive banning it would have much less of an impact on demographics than zoning reform. If one is looking to blame a culprit on the Great Replacement in California look to NIMBYism rather than culture war archetypes such as a Black Lives Matter activist or woke University Professor.

A new kind of urbanist politics could build an alliance and reconcile differences between the pro-diversity and inclusion woke left and the anti-great replacement identarian right against the existing establishment in California. A positive angle is needed in politics—both in California and Nation-wide. Conservatives and liberals alike need an optimistic vision beyond slowing down or accelerating change.