How much housing inventory has California missed out on from evil condo developers in movies?

Are you having trouble finding an affordable home in the state of California right now? From San Diego to Los Angeles to San Francisco and Oakland, the lack of inventory is keeping potential homebuyers out of the market thanks to high prices and bidding wars that drive them even higher.

California is hoping that a new affordable housing law, will stem the tide but given how unaffordable it is to buy a home in some cities, one wonders if it’s going to take much more than that. 

Like so many things, we have Hollywood to blame for this problem. Perhaps if so many movie and TV show plots didn’t revolve around stopping greedy condo developers from tearing down orphanages or youth centers, we would have thousands of much-needed housing units right now. But, no, that didn’t serve the plot of many a 80s breakdancing movie. Those scrappy kids always raised just enough money (sometimes the exact amount!) and the heroes always thwarted the businessmen from turning that dilapidated building into the market-rate condos we desperately need right about now. 

Here at Neighborhoods.com, we thought we’d look back to see just how much damage these so-called plucky Hollywood heroes have done over the years and how many housing units California has missed out on.

Herbie Rides Again (1974)

They could have stopped with “The Love Bug” but just had to make a sequel in which “real estate magnate and demolition baron Alonzo Hawk is ready to build his newest indoor shopping center, the 130-story Hawk Plaza in San Francisco.” 130 stories! That’s enormous! That could house so many people! But, no, the 1892 firehouse on-site is inhabited by sneaky Grandma Steinmetz. She refuses the move and, before you know it, a sentient Volkswagen Beetle gets in the way and Hawk goes to jail on trumped-up charges. It’s NIMBYism run amok!

Potential Housing Units Lost:

Assuming at least 100 of those stories would have been for housing, we’re talking around 400 condos or apartments. Sure could use those in the Bay Area these days. 

Poltergeist (1982)

 

The Freeling family are living the good life. They’ve just moved into their new house in a master-planned community called Cuesta Verde in Orange County. It’s a new home so there’s bound to be some issues as the house settles. You know, creaky beams, cracks in the cement, murderous clown dolls, bedroom closets that double as gateways to another dimension. We’ve all been there. But, the Freelings had to make a big deal out of it and pretty soon they uncover that the entire community has been built on top of a cemetery. Good luck trying to recoup building costs after all those houses implode into a portal.

Potential Housing Units Lost:

From the establishing shots, Cuesta Verde looks enormous. We’re gonna ballpark 700 homes or so. Shoulda just dealt with all the skeletons in the pool. 

Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo (1984)

 

Kelly, Ozone, and Turbo couldn’t leave well enough alone. They could have stuck to dance-battling in the club and/or under highway overpasses. But no, they had to get in the way of a community-minded developer who just wanted to tear down an aging rec center in Boyle Heights in order to build a shopping mall. Do you know how much more tax revenue a shopping mall could generate than a rec center? These no-good dancers not only get in the way of honest, hard-working bulldozer operators, but they also raise enough money from unsuspecting suckers to save the rec center and rob their community of untold development benefits. 

Potential Housing Units Lost:

A new shopping mall could have invigorated the surrounding community, spurring housing development. We’ll say that all that breakdancing cost LA an additional 500 housing units.

The Brady Bunch Movie (1995)

All unscrupulous real estate developer Larry Dittmeyer wants is to make his bosses happy. He just needs one more family in the neighborhood to agree to sell their property so that his company can raze it and build a shopping mall. However, the Brady family won’t sell. Karma hits them with $20,000 in back taxes but when the family wins a $20,000 prize in a talent show (how convenient) they ruin Larry’s plans. Technically, in this case, housing was preserved, but it was still a sad day for consumerism. 

Potential Housing Units Lost:

Maybe they would have built more homes because of the new shopping mall’s effect on the economy, but it’s probably a wash considering how many homes would have been demolished. So we’ll call it a push. 

Baywatch (1996)

 

Those Hollywood fatcats tried to squeeze this one past us because it’s not a movie but we know better. In this very special episode of “Baywatch”, Hulk Hogan and “Macho Man” Randy Savage are reliving their glory days when they visit their old stomping ground, the Venice Boys Youth Center. Turns out, the center has been sold to “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair, who wants to tear it down and turn it into condos. As often happens in these situations, Hogan challenges Flair’s business associate, Big Van Vader, to a wrestling match for the rights to the youth center. Hogan prevails and they literally take the deed to the property from Flair’s hand (legal paperwork be damned!). So instead of revenue-generating condos, Venice is left with a “youth center” that’s basically just another outdoor gym. Great.

Potential Housing Units Lost:

You just know Ric Flair would have been a stylin’, profilin’, limousine ridin’, wheelin’, dealin’ condo developer. He probably could have put 150 luxury units up on that site and not even broken a sweat. 

Conclusion

Add it all up and we’re looking at an estimated 1,750 housing units lost forever. Remember that as you bemoan the lack of affordable housing in California from your plush youth centers and historic firehouses. Think of those innocent developers who just wanted to make an honest buck and help homeowners out. But that didn’t happen, all because Californians needed to live in poltergeist-free homes and make sure kids had a place to bench press by the beach. 

 

(Thanks for the inspiration, Uproxx and CityLab)

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