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Inside a Capitol fight over housing

Crowded housing on a San Francisco hillside. (Photo: Radislav Leyck)

The housing crisis — “debacle” might be a better way of putting it — has no quick or easy solution.  For decades, housing production has not kept up with population growth in California, leaving Californians to struggle with soaring bills, longer commutes and more people living under one roof.

State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), representing a district that includes some of the highest rents in the nation, shepherded Senate Bill 35, which seeks to expedite construction when local governments do not meet their housing goals. It was part of  a package of housing bills that made it through the Legislature this year and were signed by Gov. Brown.

Wiener cobbled together a coalition of labor unions, environmental groups, affordable housing advocates and developers. The fiercest opposition came from local governments.

“When I introduced the bill I thought it would die, given what happened with the governor’s bill last year,” Wiener said. “When I talked with senators and Assembly members, I was surprised by how broadly they got it — even among members who I thought wouldn’t support it, (but who) supported it without hesitation.”

Wiener cobbled together a coalition of labor unions, environmental groups, affordable housing advocates and developers. The fiercest opposition came from local governments.

In the end, SB35 was supported by an array of organizations, including the California League of Conservation Voters, the State Building and Construction Trades Council, Non-Profit Housing Association of California, NextGen, and Facebook.

The housing package seeks to expedite construction by allowing some exemptions from regulations in order to deal quickly with shortages.

The California Building Industry Association and the Western Center on Law and Poverty took a position of “support if amended.”

The CBIA had problems with the some of the provisions in SB35, specifically the inclusion of the prevailing wage for projects, which Democrats strongly supported.  The prevailing wage, essentially, is the union-level wage in the largest city of the county where the project is located.

The Western Center on Law and Poverty, which supports affordable housing, derived benefit from the negotiations.

“Everybody knew the governor wanted streamlining and we were able to use that to deliver other critical housing policy reforms and get funding,” said the Western Center’s Anya Lawler.

According to Wiener, the most difficult negotiations over the package came with the labor unions.

Wiener and Cesar Diaz of the SBCTC spent so much time hammering out details in the legislation they both needed a much-needed break from each other.

In the Assembly, Republican support was far weaker, with Assembly member Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley) the sole supporter.

“I think in working with us very closely, he learned and honed in on the process.  Sometimes he was moving a lot faster than us, but overall it was a really good experience working with him and for a freshman legislator, I am very impressed,” said Diaz, whose group is affiliated with scores of unions that represent about 400,000 skilled workers who have a big stake in construction projects.

In the Senate, Wiener garnered the support of four Republicans — Sens. Joel Anderson (R-El Cajon), Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres), Janet Nguyen (R-Garden Grove) and Andy Vidak (R-Hanford) and, Wiener said, possibly Mike Morrell (R-Rancho Cucamonga) who supported the bill in June, but mistakenly voted no in September.

That amounts to nearly half of the Senate’s 12-member Republican Caucus.

In the Assembly, Republican support was far weaker, with Assembly member Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley) the sole supporter.

Some don’t want to see local control circumvented, such as legislators from Marin County, Lamorinda in Contra Costa County, Santa Barbara and Fullerton.

Wiener said the lack of support from the GOP  stemmed, at least in part, from what he claimed was an inaccurate analysis of the bill by the Republican staff.

“We saw the Assembly Republican analysis of SB35 and it was wildly inaccurate.  It actually said it was limited to low income housing,” said Wiener.  “The Republican analysis actually screwed up the bill.”

Besides the Republicans that chose to sign on to the bill, it’s instructive to the look at the legislators who dropped off, specifically Democrats from affluent suburbs.

They include some viewed as NIMBY’s (Not In My Back Yard),  and who don’t want to see local control circumvented, such as legislators from Marin County, Lamorinda in Contra Costa County, Santa Barbara and Fullerton.

The strongest and most vocal opponent to SB35 was the California League of Cities, which said the measure “dodges the reality that state and federal affordable housing funding have slowed to a trickle,” according to a League analysis, which noted that the bill also pre-empts local authority.

“More than $1 billion annually in affordable housing money has evaporated with the elimination of redevelopment agencies in 2011. Funds from the 2006 state housing bond have been exhausted and federal dollars have been declining for decades. This massive withdraw of resources has contributed to the current challenges, yet no significant source of ongoing affordable housing funding is on the horizon.”

For Brown, the push for money to finance affordable housing must be combined with an easing in regulations.

“The governor made it really clear if he was going to sign legislation that provides additional money for affordable housing that he would need to have other measures that deal regulatory and streamlining at the local level,” said the League’s Jason Rhine.

Ed’s Notes: Corrects editing error by deleting reference to $4 billion, 2nd graf, and moves up description of SB 35. Tightens.

 

 


  • annjohns

    Stop talking about a housing shortage without mentioning the cause of the population increase. Every bit of population growth in this state for 30 years is due to immigration and their progeny, every. single. increase. And over 2 million people here are here illegally. Just deporting those here illegally would solve the unit shortage.

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