Wed, Jul

The Business Insiders’ Club: Urban Growth Machine Strikes Back Against Tolerance


HOUSING WATCH - In the interest of fairness, this piece was first offered to the publication in which the article being referenced first appeared, “Business Insider.”

Regrettably, though perhaps unsurprisingly, “Business Insider” seems less interested in journalistic integrity and objectivity than in holding the line with their Urban Growth Machine rhetoric, and so they declined to run this piece. 

When the headline of a “rebuttal” proves my point about a lack of tolerance in discussions about housing and exposes a supposedly objective journalist’s seething bigotry, you know you’ve struck a nerve by speaking truth to opportunism, hypocrisy, and the Urban Growth Machine… 

The headline of the Business Insider piece by Ben Winck immediately violates one the basic principles of good journalism, something I learned many moons ago in a high school cub journalism class taught by the legendary Gil Chesterton. In short, there are issues when a headline contains multiple falsehoods. I’m not sure if this is a conscious effort of Business Insider to try to compete with The Onion, but there it is. 

The offending headline proclaims: “A former Beverly Hills mayor is so committed to keeping home prices high that he said the freedom to block dense housing deserves to be protected like gay marriage.” 

Let’s try to peel away the layers of spuriousness, prejudice, unprofessionalism, and downright bad journalism, starting with the headline. 

“A former Beverly Hills mayor.”  That’d be me.  It’s true. Guilty as charged.  I have served as mayor in my hometown.  So far, so good. 

“Is so committed to keeping home prices high.”  The article is in response to a piece I wrote for CalMatters, which was titled: “The one element missing from the discussion of housing: Tolerance.” 

In the piece, I argue that the Yimby (“Yes in my back-yard”)/Wimby (Wall St. in my back-yard) trend to try to force density on communities and to outlaw single-family neighborhoods is symptomatic of the intolerance among certain groups about individuals’ very personal housing preferences.  I suggest that there is nothing wrong with living in – or wanting to live in – a home with a garden in a neighborhood of homes with gardens.  I point out that a vast majority of Americans of all stripes would prefer to live in single-family neighborhoods. 

That my advocacy for community self-determination, including the preservation of single-family neighborhoods within communities, somehow means I’m “committed to keeping home prices high” can in no way be inferred from any of my actual words.  First of all, I’m not opposing urban density per se, but forced density via upzoning mandates coming from Sacramento politicians.  Second of all, my article is all about allowing communities and individuals to make personal choices, not about home prices. 

Presumably, Ben Winck is himself drawing the conclusion that “forced density leads to lower home prices.”  

This is one of the three most commonly repeated canards about upzoning and forced density (the other two being that forced density leads to racial equity, and will somehow serve to counteract climate change). 

In standing by my communitarian values and suggesting that individuals should have a wide variety of housing options, including neighborhoods of homes with gardens, I am not committed to, or even in favor of high home prices.  Perhaps Ben Winck’s outburst suggests that he, on the other hand – and very much in line with agenda of the Urban Growth Machine – is himself committed to higher home and land prices, not to mention the further commodification of housing.  A lot of brownie points presumably to be made for someone who writes for a publication with the telling name “Business Insider.” 

The reality, however, is urban density does not lead to lower home prices.  In fact, as the title of a recent piece by demographer Wendell Cox states in no uncertain terms: “Higher urban densities (are) associated with the worst housing affordability”. 

Ben Winck may also be attempting a version of the hackneyed WIMBY refrain that “selfish homeowners are just protecting their own property values” (by opposing forced density).  We even have credentialed WIMBY university professors trotting out this brand of sophistry.  But as I have pointed out, the exact opposite is the case, and anyone attempting to castigate “selfish homeowners looking out for their property values” is probably doing a better job of outing themselves as a developer stooge.  Clearly, forced upzoning makes a property and a home worth a whole lot more.  Clearly, those opposing forced upzoning are actually arguing against their own fiscal interests for the sake of values that perhaps transcend money and profits, something that may not be readily comprehensible for a “Business Insider.” 

“The freedom to block dense housing deserves to be protected like gay marriage.”  It would likely be instructive to pick apart the wording in this part of Ben Winck’s headline, but most relevant is the author’s content-related attempt to make a leap not at all in evidence within the source material he purports to critique. 

In my discussion of tolerance, I talk about how California loves to think of itself as open to all manner of lifestyle choices, to wit: “In California we pride ourselves on being very tolerant of a diverse array of lifestyles and lifestyle choices. Dress how it suits you; love whom you love; define yourself in accordance with your own preferences. Do your own thing. Sing your own song. Dance your own dance. The Californian thing is to live and let live.” 

No mention at all of sexuality.  Evidently, Ben Winck took “love whom you love” to be a reference to sexuality, writing: “For one, homosexuality isn't a ‘lifestyle choice’ that can be likened to music preferences or fashion.” 

Perhaps Ben Winck is a believer in divine predestination, in which case nobody can be strictly said to have any choice in anything; but for those of us who don’t share Winck’s Calvinistic tendencies, many of us – of all sexualities – do indeed make choices about the people we love, with our hearts and brains leading the way in sometimes uneven harmony (or lack thereof). 

The sheer magnitude of these headliner miscues and the virulence of what follows could probably serve as starting points for dissertations in multiple fields: semiotics, linguistics (including the absurd use of the term “pro-housing”), Derridan deconstruction, and psychology all come to mind. 

We’ll just have to leave that for another time.  There is, however, one textual howler that I do want to point out, which directly speaks to the lack of tolerance my CalMatters piece bemoans, proving unintentionally and elegantly what Ben Winck himself seeks to disprove. 

Ben Winck writes: “YIMBYs argue for more housing density, including duplexes on single-family lots, not necessarily eradicating single-family neighborhoods.” 

The suggestion that Yimby’s and WIMBY’s do not want to eradicate single-family neighborhoods reminds me of anti-vaxxers who claim they do not oppose “all” vaccines.  Yet all one has to do to see the magnitude of absurdity contained within this statement is to take a quick flyby tour of WIMBY Twitter, where the rejoicing of “the elimination of single-family zoning” reaches almost orgiastic levels. 

We will also have to leave for another time the matter of whether the WIMBY density fetishism, the unique admixture of self-entitlement and spite, the jonesing for growth, the anti-homeownership fixations, and the obsession with outlawing single-family neighborhoods are reflective of unhappy childhoods in suburbia, an investment strategy, or some kind of collective Oedipal moment. 

What’s clear is that the narratives they are peddling, for whatever reasons, are mere pretexts, and, at the end of the day, it’s all ‘bout the money and satisfying our addiction to growth, even if what we collectively need is the exact opposite

Clearly, we can’t and shouldn’t expect tolerance from “business insiders,” especially when such tolerance stands in direct contrast to the goals, hopes, and dreams of the Urban Growth Machine they continue to serve so diligently.


(John Mirisch was elected in 2009 to the Beverly Hills City Council, where he has served three terms as mayor. He is currently a garden-variety councilmember.)


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