Sunday, May 16, 2021
News + Politics We beat a bad housing bill, so let's forget...

We beat a bad housing bill, so let’s forget the blame game

The governor's by-right development was a bad idea, and blocking it was not a "failure."


There was a provocative screed in Beyond Chron this past Thursday by its editor Randy Shaw about Governor Brown’s failed “By Right Development” bill and the price the governor exacted for its failure by rejecting a $400 million budget allocation to affordable housing. Shaw claims “not to blame any person or group” for the death of by-right so then proceeds to spend the remainder of his 935-word rant blaming everyone.

Shaw is clearly upset by what happened when what he calls “the deal” didn’t succeed:

“epic fail”

“mammoth strategic screw-up”

“teachable moment”



But it’s a bit unclear what “failure” Shaw has in his sights with this string of critiques. He is correct that there was certainly not agreement or a unified strategy around “the deal” that he refers to. A handful of state housing organizations supported the governor’s demand that his by-right bill be approved in exchange for funding, much to the chagrin of many ground-level organizations in San Francisco and across the state.

Of course, all the market-rate development advocates supported that deal — like SPUR, the HAC, “BARF,” GrowSF, the Bay Area Council, the Realtors, the Chamber of Commerce, and a long list of corporate luminaries like Kofi Bonner of Lennar, Bill Witte of Related, Glenn Shannon of Shorenstein, Marc Benioff of Salesforce, Ron Conway of sfCiti, Marissa Mayer of Yahoo, Dustin Moskovitz of Facebook and Nirov Tolia of NextDoor.  Shaw acknowledges that he was also an early supporter of that deal, and he had a clearly articulated political analysis for his position. So be it, we don’t all agree on these things.

But for those of us who opposed the terms of “the deal” from the outset – which was all the major environmental organizations, the state labor organizations, and a statewide coalition of 50 affordable housing, tenant rights, environmental justice, community planning and base-building organizations—the Governor’s radical proposal for state law to trump local policies and processes to impose by-right development in urban communities already struggling with rampant gentrification and displacement, was simply a non-starter.

“By-right development” was flawed from the get-go, and the level of wreckage that it threatened forced the fight that ensued over the months of June and July into these past few weeks of August.

The decision to hold $400 million hostage during that fight was no one’s but the governor’s. It’s hard to “fail” at something that was never attempted in the first place—the fight for many organizations was over the gov’s by-right bill, not over the terms of a “deal.” And besides, “the price” for the gentrification of California’s low-income and working class and racially diverse communities is certainly more than $400 million.

If indeed the gov follows through in the next few days and rejects the budget allocation, it will nevertheless be very disappointing.  A wide group of housing organizations, many of which had disagreed about “by-right development,” sent a joint letter to the governor a week ago imploring him and the legislative leadership to set aside the debate over by-right and focus on the $400 million in funds that are suspended in the budget package: “It is now essential that we put it to work to benefit our state’s most vulnerable families, seniors, and disabled residents.”

In contrast, Randy Shaw now wants to shift “the blame” from the governor who once again is dis-investing in the state’s affordable housing needs, to advocates who got cornered earlier in the summer with a raw deal.

But here’s the point – Why waste time with the blame-game?  Brow-beating organizations that were forced to fight Governor Brown in a zero-sum game is not really a “teachable moment,” to use his pedantic term. And the fact is, the opposition campaign won. The by-right bill is dead. At least this year. That was a success, whether Shaw will acknowledge it or not.

Meanwhile, there are local funding campaigns to support, that don’t come with such troublesome conditions –

  • Proposition C on the November ballot in San Francisco will free up $260 million in previously-authorized bonds to use for preserving and acquiring housing to make it permanently affordable.
  • Alameda County Proposition A1 is a $580 million Affordable Housing Bond that will fund development of new rental opportunities, first-time and second-chance homeownership, and an Innovation Fund to allow pre-qualification for funding and rapid response that protects existing affordability.
  • Santa Clara County Proposition A offers a $950 million bond for investment in permanent supportive housing, homes for very low-income seniors, veterans, families and people with disabilities, as a well as working families and first-time homebuyers.
  • San Mateo County Measure K proposes a 20-year extension of the half-cent sales tax, generating upwards of $40 million per year for affordable homes and services.

If last November’s Proposition A $310 million bond in San Francisco is added in, that is almost $3 billion in funding on the table, in just four Bay Area counties.

So, when it comes to fighting for funding for affordable housing, there is still lots of work to be done.  Enough of the blame-game.

Peter Cohen is co-director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations



  1. exactly. and the Gov’s $400 million for affordable housing state-wide was total chump-change. sucker bait. $4 billion might have at least been a serious “offier”. but some people will go for anything just to keep their political patronage handouts coming.

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