Local Government
Commentary: Local Elected Officials Should Devote Extra-Long Terms to Housing

Commentary: Local Elected Officials Should Devote Extra-Long Terms to Housing

By Joe Mathews.

Election law has created an opportunity to reckon with California’s housing crisis more forcefully.

That’s because election law has created extra-long terms for many local public officials around the state.

In the name of increasing local voter turnout, state law now requires local governments that held elections in odd-numbered years to move those elections to even-numbered years, when they take place at the same time as gubernatorial and presidential races.

The transition from odd to even years, however, has created a peculiar phenomenon. In a number of cities, current elected officials will get extra-long terms. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, for example, gets a 5 ½ year term—he was re-elected in the spring of 2017, but there won’t be another mayor chosen until the fall of 2022.

Garcetti appears likely to use his extra time to run for president of the United States. And maybe he should—America could use some Los Angeles wisdom right now (and yes, the fact that I am writing that phrase tells you how far off the rails America has gotten).

But Garcetti and other local elected officials need to think hard about how to use the unusual gift of longer terms to serve their constituents. After all, the longer term gives them more time to develop and enforce policies, and more protection from backlash against doing difficult things.

So let me propose one approach: local elected officials should devote all their extra time to producing more housing in their communities.

The housing crisis is profoundly a local problem, and few places in California are producing enough new housing. The local NIMBY politics run so hard against it. Which is why it makes sense to make housing the local issue.

So, for a person with a 5 ½ year term, the official should announced they are going to 18 months – the excess – and do nothing but housing policy and housing work. Ideally, local officials around the state would pick the same 18 months (I’d suggest starting this summer and going through the end of 2019). The extra-long electeds could even meet and plot strategies and combine forces.

This would be good politics for local governments. If local officials don’t show more dedication to housing, they will be on the business ends of more interventions from state politicians in Sacramento. So seize the opportunity created by extra time, and solve the housing problem yourselves

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