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State housing compromise carries a 'big stick'

Uploaded: Jul 22, 2019

Tri-Valley elected officials have strenuously objected to some housing bills that have been considered in Sacramento. Their concerns have been echoed by many other local officials.

Now, the governor and legislative leaders have agreed to a compromise approach to add both carrots and sticks for local agencies.

The "one-size fits all" approach in the capitol correctly concerned the local officials because it jams somebody's "solution" down others' throats. For instance, the higher-density housing near transit hubs like BART and ACE stations seems reasonable in theory until you realize that Pleasanton's ACE station is surrounded by quaint old neighborhoods on one side and the county fairgrounds on the other.

The issue is similar in downtown Livermore, but the Greenville ACE station could be a good site for higher density housing.

Tri-Valley elected leaders had a similar reaction earlier late last year when the CASA Compact, a 15-year emergency plan for more housing in the Bay Area was released. It was put together by a multi-stakeholder group including representatives of the big cities -- San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose -- as well as housing advocates and the Association of Bay Area Governments and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

The plan calls for protecting 300,000 units occupied by households paying more than 50 percent of their income for housing; preserving 30,000 affordable units; and producing 35,000 new units, driven by a bond issue and higher sales tax.

Notably missing were representatives from suburban areas, so Valley leaders banded together to fight against some of the more onerous proposals including a regional housing agency.

The valid local concerns should be recognized in the context of the statewide housing crisis. For decades, the state has lagged badly in constructing new homes. This yearly deficit, particularly in areas with high job growth such as the Bay Area, have led to soaring housing and rental prices and a sharp growth in homelessness and people living in recreational vehicles.

A 2016 study by McKinsey Global Institute determined California needed 3.5 million additional new homes by 2025 -- at the current pace the state will add 1 million.

Gov. Gavin Newsom took office promising to attack the problem aggressively with the necessary huge goal. One major change -- adding a big stick to enforce compliance with state housing goals by local agencies. His initial approach was withholding gas tax money, a truly big stick that didn't move ahead.

Instead, the compromise with the Legislature will allow judges to impose major fines (up to $600,000 per month) if cities fail to plan to meet the state-mandated housing needs. A key change is the "plan" requirement instead of delivering the housing -- something cities really cannot do unless they're building it themselves.

The state also is adding incentives for cities that are meeting their housing goals that will allow them to tap into additional funds.

Considering local history, it took legal action that was finally settled after Pleasanton spent more than $2 million defending its blatantly illegal housing cap, before the city rezoned land for higher density. Five of those rental complexes have been built in the few years, the first significant apartments since 2001.