Saturday, April 17, 2021
News + Politics Bad housing bill stalled -- but it's not dead...

Bad housing bill stalled — but it’s not dead yet

Governor still holding housing money hostage for a measure nobody except the big developers really likes


A really bad housing bill that Gov. Jerry Brown has been pushing may be dead for now – but opponents are keeping a close eye on the Legislative leadership, where strange things happen at the last minute.

The guv wants to allow anyone to build housing anywhere in the state without the normal local community oversight. It would set a very low minimum for affordable housing, and block the ability of community groups and local government to demand and negotiate better deals.

Jerry can't get his bill passed -- so he's blocking affordable housing money
Jerry can’t get his bill passed — so he’s blocking affordable housing money

But Brown really wants this to happen, so he’s made a nasty kind of offer: The skinflint governor who has never put even a few pennies into real affordable housing has agreed to add $400 million in housing money to the budget – but only if his by-right measure passes.

In fact, he made it part of the budget process, in an attempt to force the affordable-housing community to support it. And some, like Randy Shaw, are arguing that the measure isn’t all that bad, and that housing groups shouldn’t be fighting it:

Legislative backers of affordable housing funding made a smart deal, as passage of “as of right” would eliminate the chief roadblock to Brown’s support for housing funding in future years. It could pave the way for over a billion dollars in new affordable housing funding to be allocated in the next few years.

But labor has a problem with the bill (there’s no guarantee of union jobs in the new development Brown envisions). Environmentalists have a problem with the bill, which is another attack on CEQA. And tenants and affordable housing groups, including Tenants Together, the Council of Community Housing Organizations, and ACCE, say it will lead to displacement – and very little affordable housing.

Brown's bill would lead to displacement -- and very little affordable housing
Brown’s bill would lead to displacement — and very little affordable housing

Shaw thinks this could “lead the way” to more housing money, but that’s not in the deal – and might never materialize. Instead, the governor and the developers get to build market-rate housing, displacing existing vulnerable communities, and the entire state of California gets … $400 million.

That would build maybe, maybe, 1,000 units in San Francisco, maybe twice that number in other communities. So the state, which needs billions and billions of dollars in housing money, would get so little that, for all practical purposes, nobody would notice. The impact on homelessness and the need for affordable housing would be vastly outweighed by the increase in homelessness and affordable housing needs caused by dumping unlimited market-rate development into working-class communities that would have no legal right to fight back, or even to demand concessions from giant developers.


The various sides have been meeting for months, but Brown won’t give an inch – so the housing, labor, and environmental groups have walked away.

As of August 17, the affordable housing groups have said it’s time for the governor to admit that his by-right housing plan is going nowhere, and to free up the $400 million:

“Legislators and Governor Brown still have an opportunity to build homes affordable to thousands of Californians who can’t even afford to rent a decent place to live,” said Julie Snyder, with California’s Planning and Conservation League.   “This money is a direct investment in reducing our state’s horrific level of homelessness caused by high housing costs and low wages.”

The truth is, Inglis said, there’s very little support in the state Legislature for Brown’s idea. (Not that many legislators, many of whom were once local elected officials, like the idea of giving up local land-use controls, some for the right reasons, some for the wrong ones.) The only way Brown could get any traction was to tie it to the budget and to affordable housing money.

“The governor released a statement complaining that we all walked away,” Aimee Inglis, acting director of Tenants Together, told me. “The truth is he decided to shove this proposal down our throats as part of the budget process instead of going through the normal legislative process.”

The Legislature has until the end of August to act on this, and under normal circumstances, it would be dead. But Sacramento is strange, and a small number of players can pull crazy stunts, so housing advocates remain vigilant. And we will, too.

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.


  1. I cannot continue this discussion with you, because you just continue to accuse me of things I am not doing or saying. It would be impolite to share my assessment of you.

  2. Are you really addressing the zoning appeals process?

    Instead you’re going off about preferences given to existing residents, and evoking race, and sexuality, in addition to a whole other cultural diatribe that reeks of exploitation. p.s. We have existing residents who are builders.

    I have a problem with your call for ending the Nimby abuses – it pretends that’s the only source of abuse, and it pretends that builders are victims of a system which favors them, albeit a long one that requires pay offs. If you were really addressing the zoning appeals process, you would quickly realize the Nimbys are empowered by the City and State . It only takes one idiot to halt a project if the City allows for it. Try and obstruct something and see how easy it is to get your own voice heard.

  3. New condos aren’t a social experiment, and we’ve seen them along with the inclusionary BMR programs in action. Somehow they don’t make the City more available to a swath of current residents.

    Was it the mental midgets at BARF that first promoted the concept that the character of the City comes from it’s people, not it’s buildings? Think about what you’re repeating. The buildings, the architecture, do make up the character of the City that attracted people of character to it. The buildings will outlast any eccentric characters, and the catalysts of our times were drawn to a City of great culture and character.

  4. I guess the reality is that most areas will see increased density whether we like it or not. I live in a single-family detached owner-occupied neighborhood and would like to keep it that way. That is good for families with children. And SF is defined by the diversity of its neighborhoods. They should not all look the same: homogenized cookie cutter. However, as I am getting older I may be moving to a more densely populated area with more convenient services. There is good and bad with more density.

  5. Here is a link. These are for working people, not everyone. However, the data for employed persons is similar to the general population statistics. You can search by City and by census tract within the City. The ethnic data goes back only to 2009. The latest is for 2014. I would guess 2015 will be out soon.

    Also interesting is the increases by occupation. In the 9 or 10 census tracts that define the Mission, there are 421 more information workers since 2010, as expected, but also 222 more restaurant workers. I am wondering how many of those are local residents who got jobs in the new restaurants that have opened up; some may have been unemployed already living in the Mission. The Chronicle did a story on where Valencia restaurant workers live. Only 36% commute and they were the higher paid workers.

  6. Also, Fog, I am aware how painful it is to watch one’s neighborhood or own street change in character. I was born in San Francisco and it is difficult at times to walk in some of my old haunts and not see anything I used to go to or see — groceries, cafes, movie theaters, inexpensive restaurants, people over the age of 40! I try to look forward, however, not back to the putative good old days. Creating significantly more housing units and BMR is a way of making a physically and sociologically changing SF available to a wider swath of current and future residents. For me, the character of the City stems more from its people than its building heights.

  7. Fog, I was characterizing the abuse of zoning appeals process and such, not the existence of zoning or building regulations. What I mean, for example, is a parcel that is zoned for a certain height and density l and multiple units but which neighbors successfully oppose and get an otherwise legally compliant project scaled down.

  8. Don, those are really interesting statistics. Could you tell me where I may find them and read more? Thank you.

  9. I see the logic of the Federal court. But giving preference for public or
    BMR housing based on living in the neighborhood would likely not maintain the ethnic community anyway. Not all low-income seniors in the Western Addition are Black and the number of units would likely not make a dent in the demographics.

    Most ethnic enclaves disappear over time unless there is a steady supply of new blood. Trying to keep people in a ghetto does not work. At least not since we passed nondiscrimination housing laws in the 1960s. The middleclass left. And most low-income people would move out of a low income neighborhood if they could, Ironically, gentrification has the effect of slowing down the departure of low-income minorities.

    Also interesting is that since 2010 employed Blacks are moving back to the City; to gentrifying areas and to already gentrified areas; a 35% increase in the Mission, and 6% increase in the West of Twin Peaks area (Forest Hill, Forest Hill Extension, Miraloma Park, West Portal-St. Francis Wood, Balboa-Ingleside Terraces). Also since 2010 there has been a 3.2% increase in Hispanics in the “Mission” east of Valencia, and a 14% increase West of the Peaks single family areas.

  10. Good point. I see the reasoning. Nor do I want to keep individuals moving into a neighborhood based on race. But I was referring to the “by right” development proposal not preference for public or BMR housing.

  11. Catering to new residents and those lucky enough to win subsidized units is also a form of exclusionary abuse. Length or residency is your chip on your shoulder, it’s about current rights of current owners to have a process. Characterizing that process as discriminatory against people based on race, sexual orientation or the like, is fraud. Take issue with the zoning process all you want, but do not think you can use inflammatory language, baiting in such a manner, and fool people.

  12. What would you call Blacks, Latinos, Gays and Lesbians that want to protect the quality of life in their neighborhoods? Are they also racists?

  13. I think the housing crisis speaks pointedly to what is wrong with what you call “democracy”, but I call exclusionary housing policy. Abusing the legislative and zoning appeals processes to cater to existing residents based on length of residence or high income is little better than discriminating against people based on race, sexual orientation, or the like. Soon I hope we will disentangle the misnomers of “progressive” and “neighborhood character” from this travesty of existing residents’ vested interests.

  14. Clearly, all cities, towns, and counties in California need to build housing, meeting long standing demand. That demand is highest in the coastal cities. Rather than duck and say, “You first, or we don’t do anything,” all must pitch in. The governor’s bill simply forces cities like San Francisco or Los Angeles or Palo Alto to follow the laws and regulations they already have on the books, and to do so without delay. It represents a strating point, not the end of housing construction reform. To your point, that reform would probably eventually entail legislation to address communities which have enacted local regulations that prohibit multi-family units and affordable housing. Again, we are looking at the beginning, not the end of reform.

  15. By measurements of the “crisis” I have seen, it is greater in other Bay Area cities so they should be a priority. Setting priorities is not childish. SF is already dense enough. Maybe we should wait for other cities
    to catch up before we become denser and ruin our quality of life.

    It is true that more workers come into the City for work than leave for work. How is that relevant? Also the number that leave the City for work
    has been increasing; up to 40% at last count. In my single family neighborhood, 48% reverse commute.

    For some who work down the peninsula housing in SF is a bargain
    by comparison. If housing in the City is more affordable compared to the Peninsula, I would guess we would see more reverse commuters. 1,400 workers who live in Palo Alto commute into SF for work but 7,000 workers who live in SF commute to Palo Alto for work. You can get more house for your money in St. Francis Wood.

    It makes some sense that new housing is occupied by those already
    here, but I am not sure how that is relevant. I think most young people who work down the peninsula move into old housing. How many of those who occupy new housing work in SF?

    Also the percent of workers who commute to SF is lower than
    most other Bay Area cities that have lower housing prices. And a higher percent of SF workers who live within 10 miles of work compared to workers in other cities with lower housing prices. It does not appear that housing prices cause more commuting or longer commuting distance.

  16. “If you think the shortage is a problem there is a greater shortage in other cities so they should go first.”


    “If the cities down the peninsula build more housing then SF won’t need to.”

    That’s now how housing works.

    “If we make housing more affordable it will mean more peninsula workers moving to SF.”

    More people commute into San Francisco than out. New housing is overwhelmingly occupied by people who already live in San Francisco.

  17. Why can’t we afford to block development? If you think the shortage is a problem there is a greater shortage in other cities so they should go first. If the cities down the peninsula build more housing then SF won’t need to. If we make housing more affordable it will mean more peninsula workers moving to SF.

  18. What’s wrong with catering to residents. I think that is democracy. Wanting to maintain one’s quality of life makes sense. If development is left unchecked it could destroy the environment and make the City a less desirable place to live; killing the golden goose.

  19. The goal is All-“affordable”/ No Market-rate.

    Killing the by-right while pushing for loosening the $400M is playbook.

    Will it solve the ‘housing crisis’? No, but it looks good to the cadre.

  20. Brown’s bill would lead to a lot less displacement than doing nothing would, and pushing for the $400M without by-right is just a fancy way to give developers $400M while doing nothing.
    At least correct your lede – “San Francisco Progressives continue 35 year tradition of keeping housing prices high!”

  21. I sympathize… being able to extract concessions from developers for payments, donations, etc. is one of the few ways that special interest groups can leverage their power to get what they want. If developers are able to do what they’re allowed to legally do just by building more affordable housing, then groups like the Sierra Club and the Community Association for Community Action Community will not be able to skim some demands off the top for themselves and exercise their power.

    I think it is perfectly reasonable to expect that some people in need of affordable housing and people in need of market rate housing do without for the good of local interest groups.

  22. That “dream’s” vastly preferable to the current NIMBY “nightmare” that has resulted in skyrocketing rents.

  23. I am not a developer and do not stand to gain from the governor’s bill, but I wholeheartedly support it. California’s housing shortage and accompanying high rents have been a long time in the making. Local opponents to housing construction have used every conceivable argument (traffic, parking, density, sprawl, character, artists, tenants, labor, pollution, etc.) to block or significantly alter developments all over the state. While each project should be evaluated by local officials, few should be halted if they meet legal requirements rather than catering to residents’ preferences to keep their neighborhoods unchanged. We have seen the fruit of Nimbyism, and we can no longer afford to block development that otherwise meets state and local laws and zoning requirements.

  24. It is like a developer’s wet dream. Pretty soon most of the infill in San Francisco will look like Lennar barfed all over it.

  25. The NIMBYs are squawking in horror about Governor Moonbeam’s action.

    But we have severe housing shortages in all of the coastal counties in California. I commend the governor for kicking the Nimbos in the seat of their patelones and streamlining the approval process.

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