Greens lead push to kill Gov. Brown’s housing measure

affhousingGov. Jerry Brown’s ambitious plan to increase housing stock is off to a good start, but environmentalists are ramping up the pressure on Democrats in the state Legislature to either gut it or kill it. 

The governor’s plan, unveiled last month, came after months of coverage about spiraling housing costs in urban areas, starting with San Francisco, where average monthly apartment rents have soared past $3,500 over the past year. Brown wants to modify the California Environmental Quality Act to give pre-clearance to high-density projects that meet certain standards, including having a portion of units that are deemed affordable. He also wants to reduce the obstacles to obtaining building permits.

The strategy reflects an approach that has worked fairly well in New Jersey and Massachusetts. Its basics were recommended in a 2003 Public Policy Institute of California report, which emphasized the need for a statewide approach, given how ineffective local housing policies were in creating housing stock.

Brown’s initiative passed the Assembly on a 46-7 vote on May 27 — perhaps reflecting that state lawmakers were hearing it from their constituents over the cost of rent and homes. But environmentalists are now loudly opposing the measure, and its passage in the state Senate is far less assured. Labor unions and trial lawyers, which have a history of using CEQA to force concessions or settlements from developers, also are opposing the plan.

A joint letter sent to every state lawmaker by unions, the Natural Resources Defense Council and other green groups last month warned that if adopted, Brown’s plan “would be a disaster for local government, local communities, the environment and the citizens of California.”

Brown laments difficulty of changing CEQA

In an interview with a UCLA publication, Blue Print, the governor addressed the difficulty of amending CEQA, something supported by all living California governors.

“The unions won’t let you because they use it as a hammer to get project labor agreements. The environmentalists like it because it’s the people’s document that you have to disclose all the impacts,” the governor said. “And, of course, the developers have a problem because ‘impact,’ boy, that’s a big word. Everything’s an impact.”

But as the Los Angeles Times recently reported, CEQA is not the only obstacle in San Francisco or Los Angeles.

In 1978, San Franciscans approved a ballot measure limiting changes in neighborhood density. In 1986, city voters backed a strict growth control initiative that capped commercial office construction.

In L.A., a 1987 court ruling limiting city officials’ discretion in approving building permits for projects with more than 50 units has had the effect of “preventing construction until city officials prepare an environmental impact report or declare one unnecessary, until a full trial is held in the case, or until the Supreme Court changes the ruling,” if a project faces challenges under state environmental laws.

Brown’s proposed CEQA changes, if approved, would override the San Francisco laws and the Los Angeles court precedent. A Brown aide has called the local laws “micromanaging” that would prevent an adequate response to the housing crisis.

The League of California Cities, while acknowledging the seriousness of the issue, has joined unions and greens in opposing the governor’s plan.

Dan Carrigg, the league’s legislative director, told the San Francisco Business Times, “We support local decision-making. When you have one of these one-size-fits all policies … sometimes what works in one spot doesn’t work well in another.”



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  1. Standing Fast
    Standing Fast 8 June, 2016, 11:03

    Contrary to the opinion of California’s prophets of prosperity, what we do not need everywhere in this state is more “affordable” Housing.
    Affordable housing is not economic activity, it is a government program governed by state and federal laws which supersede local building & safety codes. A builder who builds a dwelling for poor people does not have to follow the mostly-reasonable and necessary standards for construction for the reason that it can be built for less. Consequently, the affordable house or apartment is also sub-standard by today’s somewhat enlightened building codes.
    This government program is overseen by the same folks that oversee the nation’s Redevelopment activities–you know, the government program that allows local government officials to use public money and eminent domain for private development projects to eliminate “blight”.
    The legal definition of blight boils down to any property that isn’t generating as much tax revenue as local officials think it should. But before it has been reduced that far, it churns out a formula for identifying blight with the naked eye: physical, social and economic decay.
    This means old houses and apartments in older neighborhoods where lower-middleclass and poor people live, often down the street from someone with a grand old Victorian or Spanish-style mansion, are all considered blighted because they do not conform to current building codes. The people who dwell in them, whatever their income or occupation, are considered menaces to the community to justify the use of eminent domain against the property they live on. Their neighborhood is neglected by local officials so that the streets, sidewalks, curbs, gutters, streetlights, crosswalks, stop signs, street trees and other usual amenities of public right-of-ways are allowed to deteriorate to the point that repairing them is a huge burden on the public treasury.
    So, of course the whole place is blighted.
    So, the affordable housing programs the state is threatening to foist upon us are not going to be good for the people who are to live there, or for the people who have to pay for them, or for our local and state economies.
    Please note that I am not saying we do not need to make sure our homeless veterans, or homeless families with children, or homeless mentally-ill people, or homeless recently-emancipated foster children who have been kicked out by their foster parents for the crime of turning 18, or homeless mentally-ill people have decent places to live and a chance to improve their situation by exercising wisdom and virtue. But, these problems are being effectively solved by a growing force of public and private operations whose successes are becoming legendary. These are activities that I advocate because they actually work.
    Affordable housing is a different government program, and its record of failures are not only legendary but appalling.
    On top of everything else, what most places in California don’t need right now is more people.
    We already have too many right now.

    Reply this comment
    • Reasonable
      Reasonable 7 May, 2017, 08:56

      Your comments reflect the reasons why young people (and many older folks) can no longer afford to live in California. Breaking the stranglehold that Unions (especially public employee unions) and Environmentalists have on this state is the only way for California to become again the great and affordable state that I was born into in 1964, and was still pretty affordable up through about early ninties.

      The California Democratic party is completely owned by the above two special interests (Unions and environmentalist) at the expense of rest of the Californians who believe that the Public Good is not defined by what extremist environmentalist want or what Unions want.

      I fervently hope that the majority of Californians wake up and repeal the CEQA and all of its extremists elements, and limit the power of unions to impact new construction projects.

      This will only realistically happen when Californians hold the Democrats responsible for why California has become such a ridiculously overtaxed and unaffordable place to live and work.

      And no, I am not a Republican, and I think Global Warming is a scientific fact, but I will not end Global Warming on the backs of working Californians, who need affordable housing and a tax structure that does not levy non-progressive taxes like the Gasoline Tax per Gallon or ridiculous taxes to register your vehicle annually. A car’s registration is not to raise taxes but give police and accident victims an accurate location of the car’s registered owner.

      Reply this comment
  2. Standing Fast
    Standing Fast 9 May, 2017, 09:50

    You do not understand what you are talking about.

    First of all, the Affordable Housing program does not produce more low-cost housing for poor people. The government requires prices to be set at the median level for the area where they are to be built. But, as usual, the government doesn’t understand real estate values at all. So, the greater Los Angeles Metropolitan Area, which goes from the beach where housing is in the seven or eight digit range to the San Bernardino Valley and perhaps beyond, where real estate values for the best places are lower than the worst neighborhood in Los Angeles.

    Which means the Affordable Housing median for SB Valley turns out to be higher than the average price of a house or apartment.

    Also, this higher-priced housing is not to code because of the federal government’s idiotic notion that poor people don’t deserve a place that is built properly. You should see some of the buildings built under this program. In my city, there is a Mixed-Use “town-house” that is tipsy. If you hung a plumb-bob from the eaves on the third floor next to the building, the bob would hang free on its way down to the ground. Also, the framework is constructed of spliced scrap wood bound together with metal straps and secured with metal pegs. You think I’m going to set foot in a place like that?

    The best way to get housing for poor people is to let the builders build housing for middle and upper middle class folks. What happens is that those who want to move up sell out and buy a better place. The folks that buy their place are also moving up, and this goes on down the chain like a Domino effect. At the very bottom will be left vacant apartments and houses at the low-end of the market. That sets the pace for the right amount of low-cost housing.

    Otherwise you end up with huge tracts of ugly crummy housing and all the trouble that goes with it.

    If government would stop trying to micro-manage the market, we the people would be able to sort the whole thing out at no cost to taxpayers.

    I agree that CEQA is a problematical government regulation. And though I am a registered Republican, I do not believe that what California needs right now is more development. I think we need a moratorium until we see if the drought is over. If it turns out to be over, we should not plan to cover every square inch of our state with buildings and parking lots.

    There should be some recognition by everyone that the kind of climate-zone you are in should drive land-use policy. Just because we can build huge projects to bring water to Southern California from somewhere else far away does not mean we should.

    “Without Wisdom, a People Perish.” — Proverbs 11:14

    P.S.: I do not belong to any environmental organization, I do not believe climate change is being driven by human activity, I do not believe humans can continue to pollute the planet with impunity, I do not believe we need to give up fossil fuels to have clean energy, I do not believe raising animals humanely for food is a bad thing, I do not believe GMOs are a good thing, I do not believe that science or government are the salvation of mankind, I do not believe that the end justifies the means, I do not believe in the use of force or coercion to shift the gears of the marketplace. I believe that the Universe is an orderly place, governed by its Creator according to the laws of cause and effect which apply equally everywhere at all times, and that no one is exempt.

    Reply this comment

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Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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