By Thomas Sowell
My favorite salesman in my favorite camera store in Palo Alto, California, happened to mention that he lives in the town of Tracy. That is about an hour and a half drive to work in rush hour traffic. Why was this man spending three hours a day on the highway? Because housing prices are so high in Palo Alto — and up and down the whole San Francisco peninsula.
This is not due to supply and demand in a free market. It is largely due to rich busybodies who have promoted severe restrictions on the building of housing under a variety of high-sounding names like “open space” or “environmental protection.” I don’t begrudge such people the inheritances that have allowed them to live their whole lives without ever having to lift a finger to support themselves. But it is galling that they are imposing huge costs on hundreds of thousands of other people who have to work for a living.
People used to complain about “the idle rich.” But the idle rich did not do the kind of harm being done by today’s busybody rich, who feed their own egos by bankrolling political crusades on the left which hurt the very people that the left claims to care about — working people, minorities, and children.
One of the painful but untold stories of our times is the forcing of working people, minorities, and children out of liberal communities where severe restrictions on the use of land have made housing costs too high to be affordable for most people. The consequences can be seen in the population changes in these communities.
Affluent and politically liberal-left communities like San Francisco and Monterey are places from which blacks have been forced out economically, even as they are cheered in political rhetoric. In San Francisco, for example, the number of blacks declined from more than 79,000 in the 1990 census to less than 61,000 in the 2000 census, even though the total population in the city increased by more than 50,000 people.
In adjoining — and equally affluent and politically liberal — San Mateo County, the black population fell from more than 35,000 to less than 25,000 during the same decade. Here too the total population rose by more than 50,000. More than half the land area of San Mateo is off-limits to building under “open space” laws.
In Monterey, another bastion of affluent liberalism and environmentalism, the black population in this community of more than 30,000 people declined from 937 to 749.
These are all bastions of liberal Democrats. In all these places, Ted Kennedy would be a middle of the roader, if not right of center. If these were conservative Republican communities from which blacks were being forced out economically, cries of “racism” would be ringing out across the land. Jesse Jackson would be on every TV channel, full of righteous indignation, and Al Sharpton’s picture would be in every newspaper, along with his inflammatory rhetoric. But, as it is, there is hardly a peep out of anyone.
Regardless of race, people with children are likewise finding it hard to live where concentrations of limousine liberals force housing prices sky high with their severe land use restrictions under pretty environmentalist names. The number of children in San Francisco declined absolutely between 1990 and 2000, despite the overall growth in the city’s population.
You can see where there are more children and less children in the average ages of local populations, which can differ by a decade or more. The average age in Merced County, out in the more conservative central valley, is 28 but in San Francisco it is 37. In very affluent communities like Beverly Hills, Malibu, and Woodside, the average age is in the forties.
When environmental extremism began to sweep through California in the 1970s, housing prices in Palo Alto roughly quadrupled — and several schools had to shut down for lack of children. It wasn’t demand that caused housing prices to skyrocket. Palo Alto’s population declined slightly during that decade.
So long as people listen to political rhetoric, instead of looking at economic and demographic facts, liberalism sounds great.
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