For the last several years, the dominant sentiment among Gov. Gavin Newsom, other top state officials and leading state legislators has held that one size fits all of California, when it comes to housing.
The conviction that the state can and should dictate virtually all policy on land use and development — an area that was previously the purview of local government as long as California has been a state — lurks behind all the major new housing laws California has adopted over the last three years.
These measures make denials of building permits almost impossible in most places even when proposed projects far exceed local plans approved by city councils, county boards and voters.
So the character of many cities is changing rapidly, but vacancy signs proliferate more than ever as most people who badly need housing can’t afford even supposedly affordable rents or purchase prices in the dense new developments.
Now the same “we know what’s best for everyone” notion has spread to schools, where some social issues spur responses even more emotional than neighborhood-changing high-rise buildings.
It’s too early in the school disputes for a statewide rebellion to develop, but if disagreements on how to approach gender-identity issues remain as wide as they are now, expect a ballot initiative to appear, just as an initiative to override most of the new housing laws is now seeking signatures statewide.
The state’s conflict with some school districts began in mid-summer when the Chino Valley Unified district in western San Bernardino County adopted a “parents’ rights” policy on children’s gender identity. A court order at least temporarily delayed its effective date.
That policy would require written notice to parents within three days if a child identifies as transgender, becomes violent or mentions possible suicide. Under these rules, identifying as transgender can be as innocuous as children seeking to change the pronouns by which they refer to themselves or using bathrooms and changing rooms not matching their apparent birth gender.
Similar rules have since been adopted by the Murietta Valley Unified district in southern Riverside County and a few others that also sought to reject a state-mandated social studies curriculum discussing the assassinated gay civil rights leader Harvey Milk.
The legal holdup stems from direct intervention via a lawsuit by state Attorney General Rob Bonta.
Meanwhile, Newsom said he is working with legislators to develop language for a new law to negate or mitigate policies like those adopted for Chino and Murietta schools.
The fear of LGBTQ+ leaders and their allies like Newsom is that some children exhibiting transgender tendencies would become victims of extreme parental violence if they were “outed.”
Opponents of the recent school district rule changes believe children only hide their transgender tendencies and wishes from parents if they fear such violence. They believe schools should protect children’s interests over parental authority. Meanwhile, lower court judges have differed on whether the state or local districts have ultimate authority on these issues.
This is not a unique California situation. Florida, for example, has adopted a statewide policy almost identical to the Chino/Murietta models.
It’s no surprise that the moves by California districts come largely in Republican areas where the GOP has stressed electing local officials like school board members, since the party has been unable to dent Democratic super-majorities in the Legislature.
Open hostility to Democratic state officials was exemplified in July when state Schools Superintendent Tony Thurmond, nominally a nonpartisan official, was escorted out of a Chino district board meeting after speaking against the gender-baring rule.
So far, Bonta has not filed more lawsuits or tried to block state funding for districts involved, as he has with several cities resisting the statewide housing laws.
But it’s plain that the effort to create new laws prohibiting policies like those adopted for Chino and Murietta schools is a function of the same one-size-fits-all notion that dominates state housing policy.
The issues in schools are, however, more complex and emotional than even housing, itself a hot-button issue. Right now, it’s uncertain who will eventually prevail or what will be the next conflict between state and local authority.
Email Thomas Elias at [email protected].