Thursday, April 15, 2021
News + Politics Terrible housing bill slowed down -- for now

Terrible housing bill slowed down — for now

Grassroots opposition temporarily derails governor's attempt to end public hearings and community input on giant housing developments

-

California came within days of adopting a law that would have taken away the right of the public to have a hearing about major real estate developments.

The measure would have not only threatened neighborhoods suffering from displacement linked to luxury housing; it would also have prevented planners and community activists to negotiate and demand higher level of affordable housing.

Jerry Brown wants to let the Chamber of Commerce and the yealtors set state housing police
Jerry Brown wants to let the Chamber of Commerce and the yealtors set state housing police

Those negotiations are common in SF, and have often convinced developers to add more affordability and change their plans.

Initially, objections by environmental, labor organizations, and local governments were disregarded by Governor Brown and the legislators. But last night the proposal was stopped (at least temporarily) by a last minute mobilization of grassroots activists from across the state.

The proposal, known as “by right” development, was introduced less than a month ago by Brown. It was on a fast track for approval because it was attached to the state budget, which must be approved by June 15.

Governor Brown described the proposal as an “affordable housing” plan because it required qualifying projects to offer some inclusionary housing – but as little as five to ten percent for sites within a half mile of a transit stop (housing further away from transit would be need to provide ten to 20 percent inclusionary housing – steering more luxury housing nearest to transit).

The proposal was called “by right” development because if a projects includes the minimum affordable housing requirements, developers would have the “right” to build whatever the zoning allowed. No environmental impact analysis. No public hearings. No opportunity to publicly raise concerns about demolitions of housing, lost jobs, or impacts on small businesses.

The proposal was backed by the usual major lobbyists and campaign contributors in the state including the Realtors, the Apartment Association, and other business interests. What was unusual was that it was also supported by most statewide and regional affordable housing organizations and builders including Housing California, Bridge Housing, and others. This provided cover for the governor to push forward his plan and it gained support in the Legislature and it moved toward final approvals.

John Eller, an organizer with ACCE, recalls, “just a week ago when I first asked legislative staff about the bill I was told ‘this is a done deal.’ They said this is supported by the Chamber of Commerce and affordable housing organizations.”   The budget with the “by right” attached, was moving towards final approval by a final legislative committee by today, June 10.

Generally, community based organizations rely upon statewide advocacy organizations to alert them about state legislation. But as local housing and community organizations on their own began reviewing the governor’s proposal, they became were alarmed by the removal of the public’s involvement in the development of large projects.

“The ability of a community to negotiate with a developer to get community serving development in their neighborhood has been one of the few leverage points we have,” said Laura Raymond of ACT-LA, a transit advocacy organization.  “This by-right proposal would strip that ability away in exchange for very little affordable housing and no job programs at all.”

ACT-LA is leading a very different strategy, a community and labor sponsored ballot initiative to promote affordable housing development that also provides local jobs in Los Angeles.

The governor is holding hostage some $400 million in affordable housing money and says he will release it only if his plan is approved.

San Francisco’s Council of Community Housing Organizations was one of the few regional affordable housing organizations to object to the governor’s plan. “Our coalition includes nonprofit developers that need that funding to do business,” said CCHO’s Peter Cohen. “But affordable housing development is not in a silo, we all understand it as part of our broader community development purpose. In principle we could not support a proposal that would put neighborhoods at the mercy of developers…  So we started to reach out with others to build an opposition.”

A week ago, community organizations held their first statewide conference call to talk about the ‘by right’ development bill. The call included representatives of ACCE, Tenants Together, Right to the City, Public Advocates, local PICO affiliates, ACT-LA, and others. By Monday, the group drafted a sign-on letter to oppose the legislation.  It read in part:

We believe it is profoundly unjust and undemocratic for the state to take away from our communities the ability to review and engage in the decisions about development proposals   …This puts disadvantaged neighborhoods at the mercy of real estate developers who already wield too much power at all levels of government.

In the meantime, organizers learned that the legislature’s Joint Budget Committee that finalizes the budget would meet this past Wednesday. The letter was quickly distributed and in two days more than 50 organizations from across the state had signed on. In the meantime, the organizations began alerting grassroots members about the governor’s plan. The response was immediate.

Eller reports that ACCE’s call to action resulted in more than 1,400 people emailing legislators in one day. “This was one of the strongest reactions we’ve ever had,” said Eller. “The idea that the public’s voice should not be taken away really resonated with people.” Tenants Together, PICO California and other organizations also mobilized their members.

On Thursday, the Joint Budget Committee announced that the “by right” proposal would not be included in the budget that will be approved by June 15.

The governor is still refusing to release the $400 million. But the proposal will have to be debated and vetted at a public hearing. And now there is a statewide coalition ready to take on this project of the real estate lobby.

Dawn Phillips of the national coalition Right to the City, said: “The situation continues to be that the governor is holding affordable housing funding hostage for approval of a deal with his developer allies.  But this is not a fair exchange.  A one-time allocation of funding cannot compensate for a permanent loss of democratic rights.  And next year we’ll have be begging for more funding and have to give up more rights.”

Local note:  Working with local activists, this past Tuesday, Supervisor Aaron Peskin introduced a resolution for the city to take a position against the ‘by right’ proposal in its present form. The resolution required unanimous support by the board in order to be voted on immediately. Supervisor Scott Wiener refused to support the resolution and effectively blocked its consideration.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

81 COMMENTS

  1. Yes San Mateo and Santa Clara counties need to do their share. By “adjacent communities” did you mean them, or Manteca?

  2. “communities” have also excluded more affordable housing. People complain about zoning, but at least under zoning you were told what you did have the right to build. Yes, “as of right.” And if developers can have @as of right,” under rule of law, their expenses may be less, and just possibly their housing at market rate might be a little more affordable! I’ve heard a developer say he liked Portland; for all the fact that the growth boundary is choking the city in some ways, within the boundary it’s “as of right” pretty much. Would you prefer your domestic arrangements and sex life not be “as of right” but had to be approved by the “community”? If you’re black, would you prefer your residence in an area be “as of right” or had to be approved by the “community”?

  3. Just what California needs: more garbage in the streets, more graffiti on fences, more dangerous people walking around their neighborhoods, more car thefts, more kids overcrowding classrooms, more illegal dumping, more unmowed lawns…and on and on. It seems to me there are 49 other states. So adios.

  4. […] And it wasn’t clear why we were really there – except that for the past couple of hours, Lee, Metcalf, and a group of “stakeholders” (mostly big nonprofit housing developers like Bridge, the Bay Area Council, and the pro-any-kind-of-development Housing Action Coalition, and the law firm of Holland and Knight, which represented a tech startup illegally using space in Chinatown) had been meeting privately to figure out how to promote the governor’s plan to allow developers to build housing without the normal community oversight. […]

  5. Let’s talk about what truly matters – the issues. If you agree with a politician on the issues and the politician acts based on his stated position on those issues, then his supposed “backing” doesn’t matter. So instead of mudslinging, explain what Wiener said or did during his tenure as Supervisor that you disagree with. Because what you said was lazy and immature.

  6. I’m not the race baiter. Its Campos and company who want to protect the Latino community in the Mission and keep out white techies. I’m just trying to explain the ramifications of that objective.

  7. I only know that more market rate housing in SF will exacerbate the problem in the near term and I can’t wait 15 to 50 years for filtering to allow that latte to be served by a local resident and neighbor. We need to start planning on a practical and sociological basis rather than some naive ideological philosophy leading to a more dystopian future

  8. “Your protection of Latinos in the Mission is forcing African Americans out of West Oakland. Its wack-a-mole on a grand scale ”

    Stop race baiting and stop the lies. The concept that the entire City is a waiting list is false.

    If you can afford the Mission, you have plenty of options even within the City with much less demand before you have to go to West Oakland.

  9. So the people who make your latte and bag your groceries should live in the Central valley and commute 2 hours each way to work? that’s your answer? because that’s whats happening.

  10. Nope. vacancy rates are in the low single digits across the Bay Area. people are being displaced in Oakland by San Francisco’s overspill. Your protection of Latinos in the Mission is forcing African Americans out of West Oakland. Its wack-a-mole on a grand scale and its poor people who are getting wacked.

  11. Builders should be incentivized to create lower cost housing in adjacent communities with lower land values. The focus on density and building in land constrained areas is like pouring gasoline on a fire. In major cities like SF, nexus studies show market rate units alone create a need for some thing like 30% more affordable units – so no help there. While massive construction could help stabilize rents somewhat over the wider region and a very long time (15 to 50 years – filtering studies show), it is no help for people living here now. In fact the effect is just the opposite on a local and block by block basis where the introduction of market rate units gentrify neighborhoods and add to local displacement and increased income disparity along with significant cultural impacts and human pain. Our world is more than just numbers. Growth/greed are not always good. “Highest and Best use” is often not.

  12. “dozens of people fight over the same unit that comes on the market”

    Are you suggesting this is the state of affairs in the City? When one unit has a lot of demand, It has less to do with availability and everything to do with the unit, availability in it’s location, the price, and many factors.

    The same 12 people could go across town, or 10 minutes out of the City, and have no competition over 12 different units.

  13. I think that if consumers have multiple housing alternatives, instead of the current situation where dozens of people fight over the same unit that comes on the market, prices will come down. Its hard to believe that simple economic principles are so difficult to comprehend.

  14. I agree $400 million is a drop in the ocean. The recent LAO report said that the state would have to put $250 billion into affordable housing to move the needle on affordability. It is very clear that this problem will never be solved with public money, especially when it costs $900,000 a unit to build in SF. The only way to solve the housing crisis is to allow home builders to build more homes but the NIMBYs and existing wealthy home owners don’t want that to happen….this is why the Governor’s proposal is so critical.

  15. Uh $400MM STATEWIDE is nothing. The Mission alone needs over $800MM.
    And Brown’s hostage tactics to support big real estate is appalling. Thanks CCHO for not being tempted by crumbs.

  16. I’m an “ordinary person”. I want to have the “3 floor” building next door replaced by a “20 floor” tower.

  17. Jerry Brown is the Tin Man of California. He has no heart. I have seen him show his heartlessness in other situations.

  18. This undemocratic, unconscionable power grab by business interests is scandalously corrupt. How can one ageancy of government, the state and our awful governor, steal local democracy?

  19. Yes. But all this seems like “business as usual” ,or even worse, the “trickle down” theory, when in fact,we are in a crisis, at least in San Francisco. So, to that degree,this new legislation seems beside the point,IMO.

  20. Thank you Robbin Noir!!!! Land reform – NOW! You have hit the nail on the head. Keep it up. Keep talking. This is no longer a supply and demand issue. The globalization of our real estate now requires new answers rather than beating this old dead notion that we can build our way out of this mess or that we can include this or that into new buildings. This issue is WAY BEYOND

  21. If the so called “housing advocates” in CCHO are willing to leave $400mm in affordable housing funds on the table to protect CEQA lawsuit abuses they will be outed, exposed, shown to be what they truly are, mere acolytes for the rich home owning classes who don’t want any more homes built anywhere. The pretense will be over once and for all. The Governor is calling their bluff.

  22. Somethings missing here. Why would the Governor support such a seemingly bad law?

    To answer your question, the governor offered a few reasons in his speech and budget summary:

    * Fiscal prudence: Streamlining local reviews will reduce the cost of development and make the State’s budgeted affordable housing money go further. San Francisco County has the highest cost to build affordable housing of any county in California at $591000/unit.

    * Increase overall supply to reduce displacement pressure: “[C]ommunity pressure and interest groups often use the current local review process to stall or stop housing projects, and these delays and denials place a strain on the state’s housing supply by increasing project risks and costs.”

    * Increase government efficiency: “It is counterproductive to continue providing funding for housing under a system which slows down approvals in areas already vetted and zoned for housing, which only delays development and increases costs.”

    * The LAO also suggests a tragedy of the commons reason that local governments are encouraged to mandate discretionary review too often: “communities often focus on the potential drawbacks of new housing while undervaluing the potential benefits. This imbalance can lead communities to plan for and permit less housing than may be optimal from a regional or statewide perspective.”

    Tim Redmond lazily blamed “the real estate lobby” for the proposal and ignored the actual issues that the governor attempted to address with the proposal.

    And does this go against San Francisco’s 25% affordable units inclusion?

    No, this Tim Redmond’s article is unclear, but the governor’s budget trailer bill would not have interfered with San Francisco’s 12%–25% inclusionary housing requirements. The 5%, 10%, and 20% numbers in the bill are only triggers for the requirement to streamline permits.

  23. “In contrast, in places with high density and high levels of regulation,
    urban success is more likely to leave population levels relatively
    unchanged. It is housing prices and income levels that rise in these
    places.”
    So it seems destined that, with continued regulation, prices in the flats will trend upward.

    That is why the issues of displacement and affordability are far more important than price. This is mostly a wage and wage distribution issue.

  24. The zoning is basically dual or multi- units, and fwik, Streamlining doesn’t bump that up.

    You are mistaken. Streamlining applies to all parcels in or next to “urban use”. The legislation defines “urban use” to include multi-unit residential. I confirmed with the Governor’s Director of Housing and Community Development that, in fact, streamlining will allow by-right demolition of nearly any rent controlled unit in Berkeley, requiring only that it be replaced with a (likely more profitable) “affordable” unit.

    Developers eyeing lower cost flatland prop makes sense,

    Streamlining will enable the most intensive development in the lower income and less white neighborhoods. Areas close to San Pablo Park and close to North Berkeley BART station are examples of areas where Berkeley’s prejudicial zoning will spare those owners from streamlining.

    This legislation very much falls in favor of rich people and against lower income households and Berkeley neighborhoods that are less white.

    But I don’t see Browns ‘steamroller’ as that dramatic, given the current zoning limits.

    Barring a sharp economic correction, I think you’ll be shown wrong. Indeed, the very point of the rule is dramatic effect.

  25. I can agree that lowering production costs (less regs) doesn’t directly lower product prices (excess going to developers/supply chain). But speeding development will bring unit supply up quicker, exerting downward pressure on prices.

    I still don’t understand why the RC units will be replaced if it is by a finite # of new units (“affordable” or not; and, er, isn’t that just what the ‘community’ demanded?). The zoning is basically dual or multi- units, and fwik, Streamlining doesn’t bump that up.

    Developers eyeing lower cost flatland prop makes sense, because it is lower cost that hill props. A la Palo Alto, older bungalows are bought out for $1m+ to be replaced by monster homes. But that in no way is a more that increases housing supply.

    Glaser sez
    “In contrast, in places with high density and high levels of regulation, urban success is more likely to leave population levels relatively unchanged. It is housing prices and income levels that rise in these places.”
    So it seems destined that, with continued regulation, prices in the flats will trend upward.

    Now whether we get more units, which will lower prices (increase population) or not is the question. But I don’t see Browns ‘steamroller’ as that dramatic, given the current zoning limits.

  26. This seems unlikely widely. The zoning does not seem to allow for a
    greater number of units which would be necessary to demo existing stock
    to replace with non-controlled units.

    Demolished rent controlled units would not be replaced by new rent controlled units.

    They would be replaced by “affordable” units meaning units whose rents are below market rate, for 30 years. The rents on these units would not be tied to inflation but, instead, to the median income.

    The LAO report indicated that if SF (and other cites) had only doubled
    the # of units (adding abt 400k to the existing 380k) over the last 30
    yrs,

    Cities do not have a policy option to “double the number of units” and the LAO report is widely recognized as garbage.

    Cities can boost the profits of private developers but they can NOT force the creation of enough supply to improve affordability. This is shown in theory (lowering production costs does not change the price of production). It is shown empirically (e.g. Glaeser et al. on “Urban Growth and Housing Supply”.

    YIMBY activists drumbeat the arguments you are offering here and, frankly, those arguments are falsehoods.

    The report also strongly suggests that low income groups would be best helped by more private construction.

    The LAO report also prompted the researchers whose data was used to speak out about how the LAO report got it wrong.

    Isn’t it funny, though, how the LAO report concludes politicians should vote to help some of their traditional cronies in finance and construction, the people be damned? Amazing how that works out.

  27. “It would also make the demolition of existing rent controlled units a by-right process ”

    This seems unlikely widely. The zoning does not seem to allow for a greater number of units which would be necessary to demo existing stock to replace with non-controlled units. Maybe in a few cases where the existing rents/values are so low that the delta would pay off; but most of Berkeley is pretty pricey as it – even the RC stock.

    The LAO report indicated that if SF (and other cites) had only doubled the # of units (adding abt 400k to the existing 380k) over the last 30 yrs, that prices would have been on a par with nationwide prices (instead of roughly, double?). Of course, thats going to be a vastly different landscape. Preservation might have to take a back seat to increased units. In Berk, that seems to be a bigger hurdle, as the stock is fairly uniform in design. In Oak, the neighborhoods are often mish-mash with Vict next to 60’s schlock next to 30s bungalows; wholesale increases might not be such a surrender of aesthetic taste

    The report also strongly suggests that low income groups would be best helped by more private construction. If we want to be open to continued immigration and job growth, we can’t continue to favor a ‘country club’ atmosphere re: housing.

  28. Well,yeah.What we need is 100% affordable being built RIGHT NOW.But this is what we get. Bring in SlickWillie?hahshaa

  29. “Ordinary people” do not want to have the 3 floor building next door replaced by a 20 floor tower.

    Funny thing is that I can’t find any funding information for GrowSF. Where does the money come from? Do count Dewsnap as a member? Do you also defend that he committed voter fraud?

  30. “Do folks think developers and landlords are pushing to build more units so they can *lower* rents?”

    It’s hard to believe that particular theme has become so prevalent.
    Didn’t you know, developers are philanthropists?

  31. That would be lovely if only 25% of workers were lower age, but since it is, at minimum, double that number of low wage workers trying to find affordable housing, 25% is a slap in the face joke.

  32. When will it be acknowledged that there are MORE lower wage people than “median” and “high” income people, and therefore we need ALL new building to be affordable to people who, even at $15 an hour full time are only grossing (before taxes!) $2400 a month. These are critical workers who cannot telecommute. Retail workers, office staff, vet assistants, child & elder care, delivery people, pet care, cleaners — where do we get to live and how far are people to commute on those lower wages? Small business people, in particular, who struggle to pay their employees $15 an hour AND pay the exorbitant commercial rents, should be screaming for housing affordable to their employees (and themselves.) We need land reform in the U.S.. Things are way out of hand. It is not ‘supply & demand’ it is global money laundering. High rents are theft from the larger economy. Gov Brown is a huge disappointment for even considering this plan. “Some” inclusionary housing” is woefully inadequate. Do folks think developers and landlords are pushing to build more units so they can *lower* rents?
    We can build nuclear weapons & send a Rover to Mars, but we cannot figure out how to build $400 a month studios and $600-700 one bedroom apartments? (Probably not …and still pay the non-producing class of owners their over-the-top profits.)

  33. Yes, it really says that. Close to transit, it would require fewer below market units. It would also make the demolition of existing rent controlled units a by-right process — thus, it is a good strategy if your goal is to end rent control entirely.

    In Berkeley, the expensive real estate in the hills and in parts of North Berkeley, plus a little bit near a big park in South Berkeley, would be protected from Streamlining, but every other square inch where residential use is allowed would be up for grabs — bringing to an end Berkeley’s Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance.

    Developer interest in Berkeley has been greatest in lower income neighborhoods which are also the least white. Streamlining promises to accelerate displacement from these areas.

    Near ASHBY BART, the surrounding community has been lobbying for years to see high levels of affordable housing built. City powers-that-be have wanted market rate. Just as those negotiations were getting somewhere, the Governor’s proposal promises to minimize the amount of affordable housing near this BART station.

  34. Trauss, the Grandmaster of SFBARF, is the defacto local definition of a media-grand stander, in virtually every context. She’s an Astro-turf, on the sugar-daddy-teat, Yelp-funded dancing prima-Donna carpetbagger.

  35. its really fun watching the NIMBYs jump through semantic back-flips; in an attempt to rationalize their progressive vales with our NIMBY-created housing crises.

  36. Somethings missing here.Why would the Governor support such a seemingly bad law? And does this go against San Francisco’s 25% affordable units inclusion?

  37. Tim, are you sure you got that right – that more BMRs would be required further away from transit, instead of closer in? Is that a major shift in policy thinking, or is it just dyslexic?

  38. “my room mate Lori Is getting paid on the internet $98/hr”…..!tl734x

    two days ago grey McLaren. P1 I bought after earning 18,512 Dollars..it was my previous month’s payout..just a little over.17k Dollars Last month..3-5 hours job a day…with weekly payouts..it’s realy the simplest. job I have ever Do.. I Joined This 7 months. ago. and now making over hourly. 87 Dollars…Learn. More right Here !tl734x:➽:➽:.➽.➽.➽.➽ http://GlobalSuperJobsReportsEmploymentsCartGetPay$98Hour…. .★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★::::::!tl734x….,…

  39. Once again Wiener shows himself to be a dick. All he cares about is his corporate backers and his own ego. Run, Jane, Run!

  40. “The proposal was backed by the usual major lobbyists and campaign
    contributors in the state including the Realtors, the Apartment
    Association, and other business interests.”

    It was also backed by ordinary people who took time out of their day to drive to Sacramento and talk to legislative staff about their support for the proposal. Some of them even drove all the way from Los Angeles! The YIMBY Lobby Day consisted of about 20 people. It took place on Tuesday, May 24th.

    https://twitter.com/grow_sf/status/735146942460612609 (not all the attendees are in this picture, some had already entered the building)

  41. “it required qualifying projects to offer some inclusionary housing – but as little as five to ten percent for sites within a half mile of a transit stop (housing further away from transit would be need to provide ten to 20 percent inclusionary housing – steering more luxury housing nearest to transit)

    […]

    The proposal was called “by right” development because if a projects includes [sic] the minimum affordable housing requirements”

    Projects would have to meet local inclusionary zoning requirements. In San Francisco, projects would still be 25% BMR.

    Most cities don’t have inclusionary zoning, though. This would encourage the production of affordable housing in cities across the state that otherwise wouldn’t build *any* BMR housing. Opposing this is very short-sighted.

    “developers would have the “right” to build whatever the zoning allowed. No environmental impact analysis. No public hearings.”

    Tim, how many environmental impact analyses and public hearings go into any change to our zoning code? How many years did the Eastern Neighborhoods plan take? How many dozens of hearings have there been in the last year for the AHBP? Why does it make sense to spend years debating and studying every individual project, instead of setting clear, strongly-negotiated rules across the city? What’s wrong with “whatever the zoning allowed”?

    The delays and uncertainty in our planning process are not free. The costs are passed down to renters. If you think the zoning is bad, change the zoning.

    “No opportunity to publicly raise concerns about demolitions of housing, lost jobs, or impacts on small businesses.”

    We have strict regulations around demolition already. This law doesn’t change them. Stop fear-mongering.

    “What was unusual was that it was also supported by most statewide and regional affordable housing organizations and builders including Housing California, Bridge Housing, and others.”

    It’s only unusual in the bubble that thinks the answer to a housing shortage is to build less housing.

  42. We should seriously consider if the affordable housing groups supporting this proposal are correct, and that CCHO is wrong.

Comments are closed.

More by this author

Breed won’t promise to spend real-estate tax money on rent relief

The voters approved Prop. I last fall to support tenants and affordable housing, but the mayor says she will use the money for her own priorities.

Reese Erlich, foreign correspondent and radical reporter, is dead at 73

After a life of progressive politics, ground-breaking journalism, and social activism, a legendary writer loses battle with cancer.

There’s a lot more to the GG Park debate than cars v. bikes

This is part of a huge discussion the city needs to have about transportation -- and equity -- in a post-COVID world.

SF could have affordable Internet for everyone for $35 a resident

Why isn't the Breed Administration moving for municipal broadband? That's The Agenda for April 11-18

A new move to get corporate money out of state political campaigns

AB 20 would ban contributions from corporations to any candidate for state office in CA.

Most read

Breed won’t promise to spend real-estate tax money on rent relief

The voters approved Prop. I last fall to support tenants and affordable housing, but the mayor says she will use the money for her own priorities.

Radical right group is trying to attack public-sector labor in SF

Anti-union mailers are going to workers home addresses -- but really, this group is looking pretty desperate.

There’s a lot more to the GG Park debate than cars v. bikes

This is part of a huge discussion the city needs to have about transportation -- and equity -- in a post-COVID world.

City College students fight back against brutal faculty cuts

Firing teachers could also mean the end of a lot of treasured programs.

You might also likeRELATED