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Saturday, October 23, 2021

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News + PoliticsHousingTwo major developer-driven housing bills head for Assembly floor

Two major developer-driven housing bills head for Assembly floor

Newsom may soon be asked to sign deregulation measures—at a time when Wall Street is moving fast into the CA housing market.


Two housing bills that are popular with the real-estate industry and unpopular with the state’s voters as a whole are headed for the floor of the state Assembly.

Both bills have already passed the Senate, so if the Assembly approves them, and the Senate signs off on minor amendments, both will go to the governor’s desk—most likely before the Sept. 14 recall vote.

Sen. Scott Wiener wants to force cities to allow more high-end housing, without giving them the tools or money to control the impacts.

SB 9 (Atkins) and SB 10 (Wiener) both seek to limit local control over housing and allow more dense market-rate development.

Neither bill requires any affordable housing, funds any affordable housing, or does anything to address the housing crisis except give private developers more rights.

A recent poll by David Binder and Associates shows that, by more than 2-1, California voters oppose both bills.

The poll showed that the sponsors of the bills are not terribly popular, either:

The influence of the Apartment Owners Association, the Chamber of Commerce, and California Yimby is pretty weak, too: The fact that the CAA supports both bills meant that 46 percent would be more likely to oppose, and only 16 percent more likely to support. The numbers were 49-19 for the Chamber and 40-16 for CA Yimby.

But the real-estate industry (and Big Telecom) have immense influence in Sacramento, so there’s a good chance both will pass. And Newsom has been generally supportive of the deregulated free-market approach to housing.

Many affordable housing activists oppose the two bills (which could in fact lead to more suburban sprawl).

The opposition to the bill crosses traditional political lines—most progressive tenant and housing groups in the state are against this approach, and so are some conservative homeowner groups and cities with mostly single-family zoning.

Wiener and Assemblymember David Chiu have complained about this “left-right pincer” movement.

And as the bills head toward becoming law, a grassroots group (as far as I know, it has no big corporate money) is moving to put an initiative on the ballot that would put local control of land use in the state Constitution.

That would be an uphill battle—unless some big, big donor comes along, the idea of raising $10 million to put something on the ballot and another $20 million (at least) to campaign against the entire California real-estate industry is daunting.

And the measure itself (which started as a legislative bill that never had a chance) is limited, at best. It also says nothing about affordable housing. It would allow, for example, Mountainview and Cupertino to accept all the tech office space in the world, without any responsibility to allow housing for that workforce. That’s been happening for more than a decade; in essence, these cities have outsourced their housing problems to San Francisco, collecting their tax money from tech and causing deep damage to a city that gets none of those benefits.

There are much better ways to address the state’s housing problems: Linking office space to workforce housing, repealing Prop. 13 for commercial property and using the tax revenue for affordable housing, repealing the Ellis Act and Costa-Hawkins so that cities can protect existing vulnerable communities, using state money to take as much private housing as possible out of the market … there are all kinds of ideas that would make a difference.

But this measure—honestly, a blunt instrument—could become popular if Newsom signs both of these laws.

I have never quoted (or even met) the mayor of Redondo Beach. Bill Brand is an avid surfer who got into politics fighting a huge high-end waterfront development in his town. But he was the designated opposition speaker in the Assembly Appropriations Committee hearing on SB 9 today.

He had a speech prepared, but the committee chair said only arguments about the fiscal impact of the bill would be allowed. So most of what he wanted to say never made it into the record.

But he put it out on an email list that we are part of, and here’s some of his would-be testimony:

The problem of affordable housing isn’t a simple problem of supply and demand. We have over 1 million vacancies statewide and a huge and growing disparity between lower income, working class Californians and the wealthy investors who pay cash for homes to be used as investments.  Gentrification and displacement are already happening, and SB9 will only accelerate this phenomenon.  

The idea of deregulating the housing market at the same time that Wall Street and other speculators are making massive moves into the single-family housing market speaks for itself. But our policy makers seem to care more about big tech and big real estate than working Californians, particularly those of color, who continue to struggle to maintain quality housing in an environment where rents and mortgages are skyrocketing. 

All of the Democrats in every committee voted for the bills. I suspect that will be the same outcome on the Assembly and Senate floor.

When Sacramento bungled the issue of property tax hikes (driven by speculation and massive growth in California) in the mid-1970s, we got Prop. 13—possibly the worst ballot measure ever approved in the state.

If Sacramento bungles housing, too, the results could also be a serious problem.

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.
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  1. Non-partisan affordable housing activists, renters, and middle class home owners have joined forces and plan to fire anyone who supports removing single family zoning from the state next time they come up on a ballot. We shall see who buys the redlining and equity arguments being used to sell SB9 and SB10 as anything other than developer opportunity bills. Parties should not assume people will vote along party lines when they are lied to and ignored by the party.

  2. Infill housing is a good thing, not a bad. Unless you are sitting on millions of dollars of housing equity and you are afraid new housing will reduce the value of it.

  3. It seems odd and wrong to most people that someone following the law doesn’t get approval to build. The elected officials make rules/laws for the rest of us to follow. This includes rules of building new housing. It confuses the hell out of normal people that a someone following the rules set out by the elected officials are still not able to build housing.

    Go Wiener!!!

  4. No comment from our board of supervisors on how these bills may interfere with our current process to allow public comment and discourse? Or have we already lost that?

  5. 48Hills pans market housing: pro developer. Has current affordable housing scheme worked? No. Why not aim fixes at problems? Problem: MtView doesn’t build/have its share of housing, but hogs tax; so pass a state bill to share tax according to job/housing density. Don’t chase what’s not working, find a better fix.

  6. Never once does Mr. Redmond mention that SB9 and SB10 are simply following in the progressive footsteps of Portland and Minneapolis who have beaten California to the punch by eliminating single-family zoning — a reactionary and anti-environmental housing policy historically rooted in exclusion and racism.

  7. The initiative is not legislation, but an amendment to the Constitution to transfer power for zoning and land use back to the local communities where they belong.
    Many local elected and residents are tired of the unpopular and destructive bills coming out of Sacramento that seem to have no end. It is a badge of honor that we have no BIG corporate donors or special interests groups like the Building Industry Association and large tech companies that have been funding all these bills for years through backdoor, mostly unseen channels.
    I appreciate all your work Mr. Redmond, and I remember a presentation you gave in LA that I attended about 5 years ago. I believe it was shortly before SB827/828 reared their ugly heads. John Mirisch invited me and that is where I first met Jill Stewart.
    I hope you will give this initiative more thought. Many are going to rally behind it as it will undo the ridiculous RHNA process, along with all the other ill-conceived legislation that has already passed, and will continue to pass if this effort is not successful. We’ve lost too many battles, and if we lose this one, the war will be over. And I would argue it has a better chance of passing than all the great legislative ideas you’ve had for years now. Again, this initiative is not meant to be legislation, but a transfer of power over land use and zoning from the State Legislature back to the local communities.
    It was never thought that the initiative would even be heard, but raise awareness and build support that Assembly Member Muratsuchi and Senator Glazer had introduced what was authored over two years ago.
    And while we have a long way to go in fundraising, what better cause to rally behind?

  8. Any politician who votes for (or signs) these bills had better get ready for some difficult political sledding in the future. Scott Wiener has already lost my vote and I´m taking names and kicking ass re: these two bills and I´m sure other voters will be doing the same.

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