Where will the children play?

GOING, going gone … the traditional suburban backyard (Flickr/Scott).

The road to hell, it’s said, is paved with good intentions. In fact, it looks like everything including the road will soon be paved.

A political issue this election year has become the “preservation of the suburbs,” and indeed there is some justifiable concern that the single-family neighborhoods of the “Father Knows Best” era are under a lot of pressure.

At Tuesday’s meeting of the Garden Grove City Council, members grappled unhappily with new state law that expands the size and availability of accessory housing units.

Once called “granny flats” or “mother-in-law” homes, ADUs are now seen as a way to address California’s housing and homelessness crisises. The expected result is a flood of little houses for rent in your neighbor’s backyard, increasing noise levels, parking problems and pressure on sewage and water systems.

Another measure, the proposed Senate Bill 1120, would allow the building of duplexes in single family home zones, or build two single family homes on a lot where just one was previously allowed.

As easy as it is to blame Sacramento for the coming lack of elbowroom, there are lots of forces at play here. California’s coastal areas are crowded because they have a) a pleasant climate and b) lots of jobs.

That drives property values up, which makes it harder for some people to purchase houses or rent apartments.  At the same time, in order to meet the market for more homes and appease the demands of influential developers, cities have lowered the gates on density.

I’m not even talking about the growing number of mid- and high-rise condo apartment projects in place or on the way in all our cities. I’m referring to the single-family developments with houses built within a few feet of the property line. There’s barely enough room back there for Fido to whiz, turn around and come back in.

New developments of any stripe have been stingy with amenities and open space. At a relatively new project in Garden Grove built on the former site of St. Callistus Catholic Church on Lewis Street, the houses are beautiful, but there’s no pool, community room or play area worthy of the name.

Public school systems are increasingly jealous of their playgrounds, locking them up after the final bell each day and employing security guards to chase people off for the offense of wanting to play a pickup basketball game at a school which they or their parents paid for with their taxes.

Park shortages are so common as to become a cliché. In The Tribune’s coverage area, only Huntington Beach is not starved for open recreational space. The cost of land and the labor to maintain such facilities to 21st century standards makes the creation of new parkland a tough, tough climb.

There’s plenty of blame to go around for this situation. It’s certain that nothing is going to change until room to breathe becomes a priority to the decision-makers not just in Sacramento but also in Washington. Which means – here comes the painful part – that it is you and I who need to apply that pressure on our lawmakers this November and every year.

Otherwise, we will continue to live in a community where open spaces – even the compromised green expanses of suburbia  – are moving well along the asphalt and concrete path to the endangered species list.

Jim Tortolano’s Retorts appears on Wednesdays. He’s old enough to remember when you could actually play in a backyard or playground. What a fossil!





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