Our legislators are at it again, relentlessly pushing housing bills that benefit developers while damaging communities and ignoring the need for affordable housing.
Earlier this year, they wisely rejected SB-50, Sen. Scott Wiener’s high-density housing bill. But legislators have put nine more noxious bills on the table. These bills, along with dire outcomes if they pass, are described in The Embarcadero Institute’s “2020 Housing Bills: Legislation in an Age of Uncertainty.”
You might recall, the Embarcadero Institute exposed the exaggerated and inaccurate claim that California needed 3.5M housing units to meet need. Put this housing bill report at the top of your “must-read” list.
The nine bills have major problems
Here is a brief recap (also see the attached chart)
Lack of Funding
Since closing Redevelopment Agencies, legislators have failed to provide a source of housing funds. They present ill-conceived ideas like state-mandated up-zoning, infill, or streamlining to make it easier to approve construction and make a profit, but conveniently ignore funding or meeting the need for affordable housing.
One city council member lamented that neither she, colleagues nor staff have time to study the bills. They are, appropriately, dealing with priorities—the impact of COVID-19, economic consequences such as loss of tax revenues, racial justice, and police reform.
Lack of Community Support
If polled, most Californians would reject claims that single-family homes are immoral and should be replaced by dense, high-rise luxury units owned by remote syndicates to benefit real estate investors. Affordable units are an afterthought in private development, added to take advantage of density bonus laws and lower impact fees offered by state and city governments.
The nine bills are filled with developer bonuses and incentives that negatively impact residents and communities—without meeting low-income housing needs. The language of the bills is dense and often including undefined terms and inconsistencies.
- Up-zoning: Five bills take away local zoning authority. In single-family neighborhoods a developer could build “by right” duplexes and multi-family units on single-family parcels. (AB-1279, AB-2345, SB-902, SB-1120, SB-1385)
- Streamlining: Several bills remove CEQA environmental protections, which developers claim delay their plans and reduce profits. (SB-995, SB-1085, SB-1120)
- Developer Incentives: By adding a few affordable units, developers can increase building heights and density, increasing the number of market-rate units while overriding community standards and zoning codes. (AB-725, AB-1279, SB-1085, SB-1385)
- Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA): As local authority is undermined and resources are strained, the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) is expanding power to dictate the number of units communities are required to build. In these times of cut-backs and budget woes for cities, HCD is expanding its staff of 900 to allocate, monitor and enforce aggressive Regional Housing Need Allocation (RHNA) quotas. RHNA is set by appointed bureaucrats, not elected officials. (AB-725, AB-3040)
- One Notable Exception! Support SB-1299:A 10TH bill deserves support. Senator Portantino’s SB-1299 would require HCD to administer a program providing grants to local governments that rezone idle commercial shopping centers to allow workforce housing.
The Embarcadero Institute concludes, “The proposed bills still represent an override of local zoning codes and the land use element in local general plans.”
The Stakes are high:
As CalMatters columnist Dan Walters (6/21/20) wrote about the California’s Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS), the nation’s largest pension trust is down about $13 billion. It intends to borrow up to $80 billion “to fatten its investment portfolio in fingers-crossed hopes that earnings gains will outstrip borrowing costs.” The “fattening” is done by acquiring assets with a potential for lucrative returns.
What assets are in greatest demand with skyrocketing value? Land and housing—thousands of backyards in single-family neighborhoods. If residents and their elected local officials can be pushed aside, the coast is clear for private and corporate investors to buy up backyards as their next gold mine.
Who Supports these Bills?
Legislators received letters of support from well-organized and well-funded agencies. For example, supporters include the CA Building Industry Association, CA Chamber of Commerce, CA Apartment Association, CA Association of Realtors, and CA YIMBYs. Millions of dollars back the YIMBY marketing machinery, and the state agency is joined by YIMBY Action, YIMBY Neoliberal, and YIMBY chapters in San Francisco, Mountain View and San Luis Obispo.
Silicon Valley puts its thumb on the scales with support from the Bay Area Council, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Facebook, Silicon Valley Community Foundation, and SPUR. In addition, SV@Home, TMG Partners, and the San Francisco Foundation are supporters. These agencies provided leadership for the MTC-driven CASA Compact, which created the framework for housing legislation carried by San Francisco Bay legislators (Wiener, Skinner, Chiu, Ting, and Wicks).
On the other hand, the people most impacted by the legislation are not informed, organized or funded. Legislators received about a dozen+ letters of opposition from city councils, a few homeowner and tax-payer groups, Sustainable TamAlmonte, Livable California, and The League of California Cities.
We defeated 50. Now we must "Nix the Nine."
California voters are smart enough to see through bureaucratic mandates that will take power from local governments to fatten developers’ portfolios.
When SB-50 was defeated in 2019, The Los Angeles Times (5/22) headline read, “Why did California’s bill to build in single-family home neighborhoods fail? Suburban homeowners.”
Those homeowners were joined by people of diverse ethnicity, income, and geographic locations (inner city included) to reject developer-backed state dictates. They united in support of community values, quality of life, and decisions made by locally-elected officials. They rejected top-down, one-size-fits all bureaucratic mandates that don’t meet the goal of providing affordable housing.
The Strategy: Create an uprising to NIX THE NINE.
Details about the strategy, timeline, and action will follow in Part II.