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HOUSING POLICIES AGGRAVATE GRIDLOCK.

Byline: WALTER MOORE Local View

WHY is traffic in Los Angeles so much worse than it was 20 years ago, and what, if anything, can we do about it?

Traffic is worse for at least three reasons: increased population density, rent control and the ``nonportability'' of Proposition 13. We can fix all three problems, but only if L.A.'s middle-class taxpayers will stand up to special interests.

With regards to population density, the number of people per square mile in Los Angeles rose from 6,322 in 1980 to an estimated 8,472 in 2005. That's a little over 1 million additional people, and they're not staying home all day. They're in their cars, automotive plaque in the city's traffic arteries.

Special-interest groups thrive on ever-increasing density. Developers, for example, profit by building as much as they can. They want us, in the name of ``affordable housing,'' to weaken our zoning laws and, indeed, give them our tax dollars, so they can build more and more housing units in our city.

To them, ever-increasing density is not a problem. Their vision of the future? New York has 26,652 people per square mile; Tokyo has 34,532; Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay) has 76,234; and Manila, 106,226.

Can you imagine having three times more people on the road during ``rush hour?''

Can we prevent increased population density? Absolutely. The city of L.A. can stop granting variances for bigger and bigger buildings; stop subsidizing the construction of same with our tax dollars; and start enforcing the building and safety code to prevent overcrowding (e.g., by preventing people from living illegally in garages).

Not only do we have more people on the road, but they're driving longer distances to get to work. Why don't people move closer to their jobs? Economics.

The city of L.A.'s rent-control laws apply to 56,295 registered properties with approximately 550,000 units. People living in those hundreds of thousands of units have a tremendous financial incentive to stay put.

Someone with a below-market-rent apartment would prefer to drive 20 miles to work rather than lose it. Conversely, someone else who commutes in the opposite direction will never have the opportunity to rent the apartment -- at any price. So instead of having two people walking to work, we wind up with two more cars on the road, clogging traffic and burning gas.

The ``nonportability'' of Proposition 13 -- for those under age 55 -- has the same impact. The longer a person has owned a home here, the more his property taxes will go up if he buys another home, closer to work. Rather than pay thousands more per year in taxes, homeowners who change jobs opt to endure longer commutes, thereby aggravating the gridlock.

Can we repeal rent control? Can we extend the ``portability'' of Proposition 13 to all homeowners, instead of just those over 55? Yes, but only if L.A.'s voters are willing to fight developers who want to avoid having to compete with a flood of 550,000 rental units suddenly entering the market.

Eliminating rent control, by the way, would not only speed traffic, but would lower the average rent for the entire city. (To understand why, read ``How Rent Control Drives Out Affordable Housing'' by William Tucker of the CATO Institute.)

Gridlock and overcrowding are the results of public policy choices, not fate. We need not accept our city's deterioration. We have no obligation to let others turn L.A. into another New York, Tokyo or Manila.
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Title Annotation:Viewpoint
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 3, 2006
Words:592
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