Perhaps as a child you heard the parable of the blind men and the elephant. Originating in India, the story goes something like this:
A group of old men who had been born blind were curious about elephants, as they had heard a wide variety of stories about the giant beasts. So, they were led to an elephant, and they were each allowed to touch the creature. The man who touched the side of the elephant concluded that elephants are large and powerful. The man who touched the trunk concluded that they are like snakes. The man who touched the tusk drew an entirely different conclusion, and so on.
Los Angeles County is like the elephant. That is to say, you can’t draw broad conclusions about it based on your exposure to just one small part or another. Los Angeles County is a vast, diverse territory that on its own would stand as one of the world’s largest economies. There are communities within the county that have vastly different issues and needs than other parts of the county.
Unfortunately, there are signs that Los Angeles County’s government isn’t looking at the whole elephant. As we’ve previously written, several members of the county’s Regional Planning Commission — the county’s advisory body on planning issues — are advocating a sort of one-size-fits-all approach to solving the homeless crisis, and further they are advocating the dispersal of the county’s homeless by “decentralizing” them from their current locations.
And, this week, we saw an example that four members of the county Board of Supervisors are failing to see the whole elephant, so to speak.
In a 4-1 vote, the board called for a 3 percent annual cap on rent increases throughout the unincorporated portions of the county. Cities have jurisdiction over such things within their borders, but the county’s new rent control policy, if it received final approval, would apply to unincorporated areas of the Santa Clarita Valley including Stevenson Ranch and Castaic.
The lone voice of reason on the board was our valley’s own representative, Kathryn Barger, who cast the dissenting vote and said the county has not done enough homework on the potential unintended economic consequences of countywide rent control.
We understand why the board majority is looking to rent control as a potential tool to address issues like homelessness and housing affordability for seniors. Those are legitimate issues and the search for solutions is an appropriate and noble exercise.
However, an across-the-board, countywide rent control cap of 3 percent annually isn’t necessarily the solution for all problems of homelessness and housing affordability. In fact, we’re not convinced that countywide rent control would make a difference at all for the county’s existing homeless population.
The county consists of many diverse communities with a broad array of issues and needs. What works and what’s needed in one portion of the county, or for one segment of a community, may not necessarily be appropriate for others. And, while rent control advocates may favor the notion of capping rent increases by greedy landlords who own massive housing complexes, applying such a cap across the board ignores the impacts it would have on the “mom and pop” landlords who own smaller rental properties.
In a territory as vast and diverse as Los Angeles County, and with issues as complicated as housing costs, we fear these one-size-fits-all solutions are tantamount to four supervisors wearing blindfolds and touching just one part of the elephant.