Eric Jaye, in a special column in the Sacramento Bee, argues the need to stand up to powerful developers as well as his opposition to SB 50—but like most critics, he fails to offer much in the way of alternatives to the measure that attempted to jumpstart housing.
The flashpoint of the housing debate right now in California “is Senate Bill 50 by state Senator Scott Wiener.”
Mr. Jaye argues: “Flush with cash in his campaign account raised from real estate developers, Wiener claims the moral high ground on his legislation to give developers the right to tear down the house next to you and build luxury housing towers right up to your lot line.
“The facts are indisputable,” Mr. Jaye admits, “California faces an affordable housing crisis. Wiener has focused on a real problem. But his bill to turn housing policy over to his developer donors will not solve that problem.”
Here we get to the crux the argument.
First he argues that, for all the moral posturing and ad hominem attacks, Senator Wiener exempted Marin County, “one of the wealthiest counties in the country, to help win approval of his plan. He’s playing raw politics and pretending it’s a moral crusade.”
The truth is that Senator Wiener was attempting to count votes and make enough concessions to win. As it turned out, there were too many people on the fence and the vote itself was probably too divisive to do so. I’m not sure his efforts to do so necessarily should discredit him.
Second, Mr. Jaye takes issue with the notion that the plan is “transit-oriented,” arguing that “there is no new fiscal support for mass transit in the bill.” Fair point, although it is also probably fair to point out he is dealing with the housing end of the equation, not necessarily the transit end.
Mr. Jaye tips his hand, though, that this is not merely an impartial analysis, arguing that “the new luxury housing he demands will create even more traffic gridlock and all the misery that comes with it.”
That’s a lot of loaded words without a lot of evidence to back it up. Mr. Jaye correctly points out that there is not a lot of room on most transit systems at rush hour, but, then again, neither is there a lot of room on highways or surface streets. Putting housing near work and transit lines is smart development—utilizing impact fees and state funding to improve these systems is obviously a needed innovation—but the state is attempting to deal with a housing crisis first. The need to deal with transportation is also there, but doesn’t necessarily have to come concurrently.
Third, Mr. Jaye writes that Senator Wiener “blames his constituents for the problem while deflecting the culpability of the state government where he now serves.” He correctly points out that Sacramento “took away redevelopment funds that were used to build affordable housing.”
As I have written several times, I see a reinstatement of redevelopment, or a comparable funding formula using increment taxes as a necessary compendium to a housing bill along the lines of SB 50. With the reinstatement of redevelopment money, the state can once again demand higher percentages of affordable housing.
Fourth, Mr. Jaye writes that “while he and his supporters attack single-family homeowners as selfish, he neglects to acknowledge that California has just essentially doubled density in single-family neighborhoods by allowing Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) virtually as a right.”
I don’t really have a problem with ADUs as a way to increase density. I would not argue that this equals doubled density. Moreover, it is not clear what any of this has to do with SB 50.
Finally, “while Wiener has added some protections for low-income communities to avoid displacement, they are grossly inadequate.” That’s a fair criticism.
Eric Jaye concludes: “Standing up to powerful developers isn’t deplorable – it is laudable.”
Okay, fine. Smack the developers around. But what is to me most notable in this criticism of SB 50 is there is no plan on how to address what Eric Jaye himself acknowledges as a critical problem—a lack of affordable housing.
In fact, instead of beating a dead horse, it would have been nice if he had suggested either improvements to SB 50 to make it more viable, or proposed his own way forward. And that’s the big problem here—it is easy to attack proposals you don’t like, to argue that they won’t work or will make things worse, but it is hard to come up with your own viable plan.
The status quo is not working. In fact, the status quo on the housing front is an unmitigated disaster. And the political system remains bogged down in paralysis that will be quite costly—to people of modest means down the line.
—David M. Greenwald reporting