Commentary: I Don’t See Much Progress At All on Housing

Photo by Brandon Griggs on Unsplash

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Sacramento, CA – Veteran Sacramento Columnist Dan Walters calls it two steps forward, one step back on housing.  Personally I think he’s too optimistic even though I think he makes some interesting points.

The steps forward as we noted last week, include the passage of AB 1307.

As Walters puts it, the bill “aims to overcome a truly bizarre appellate court ruling that a long-pending University of California student housing project in the famous People’s Park site in Berkeley could be stalled if UC didn’t mitigate the noise that students would make. Newsom signed the bill late last week.”

He notes, “Its ruling, in effect, handed anti-housing interests a powerful new way to misuse the California Environmental Quality Act.”

The second measure only impacts San Francisco, AB 1114, and “would close an anti-housing loophole unique to San Francisco. City law allows an extra bite of the apple to project opponents, giving them the right to challenge building permits even after developments have cleared all other political and legal hurdles.”

I think you can see where I’m going to go on both of these in a moment.

The step back is actually a settlement with the City of San Bernardino.  I actually saw this as good news on the whole—putting cities like Davis on notice that if they continue dragging their heels on housing, the state is going to step in.

I qualify that comment slightly, noting that the city government itself is less the problem than the use of certain land use ordinances to effectively block housing for years and even decades.  I think that the city needs to do more in terms of attempting to push through peripheral projects and modify Measure J, but the city is not attempting to obstruct housing so much as take too timid a path towards navigating a tricky local situation.

However, with regard to San Bernardino, Walters cites UC Davis’ Chris Elmendorf on the potential that the state overreached and how it could backfire.

“Our state’s housing element law is in place to ensure that all cities build their fair share of housing. No city is spared from that legal obligation. It is not a choice. It is the law,” Bonta said in a joint statement with Newsom. “Cities that fail to follow the law and plan for their fair share of housing will be held accountable,” Newsom added. “The status quo will not be tolerated.”

But Elmendorf is more apprehensive, believing that the settlement goes beyond the law and could impose conditions on San Bernardino that have the potential to backfire.

Writes Walters, “Elmendorf is especially critical of one provision that would, in effect, block the city from approving any housing project if it falls short of embracing the settlement’s provisions.”

“This is nuts,” Elmendorf said on Twitter (I still refuse to call it X). “In the name of solving the housing crisis, @AGRobBonta is signing onto a plan that, if there’s a foot-fault, will block the city from approving market-rate housing anywhere in town.”

Writes Walters, “The net result for that week was two steps forward and one step back.”

I don’t really agree. AB 1114 only impacts San Francisco.  AB 1307 does what it intends to do, it closes a specific loophole or really corrects a particularly bad ruling by the court, but neither really move the ball forward.

As I’ve argued a number of times—CEQA reform is desperately needed.  If the legislature isn’t going to do it, we will see the voters get fed up and pass something like the initiative put forward former Fox News Host Steve Hilton.

I argued on Sunday that this is an equivalent to the Jarvis-Gann initiative from the 70s.

Truth be told there are probably worse things that could come forward.  Preventing private action on CEQA would be obnoxious and overly broad rather than devastating.

Limiting impact fees is going to be a huge problem for local government and would propose ironically to compel additional local tax measures.

I think it’s fair to wonder how helpful that provision actually is.

But the point is that if the legislature doesn’t act more forcefully to address housing, these decisions will be taken out of their hands.

And the two steps forward frankly don’t do it for me.  Neither does a likely extension of the Builder’s Remedy.

In the end, the state has done a lot of talking on housing but has frankly only nibbled on the edges.  If the state wanted to go big—a big carrot approach would be to reinstate RDA.  Or a big stick approach would be to fully strip local governments out of compliance of any land use authority.

Short of something game changing like this it is hard to imagine anything more than a marginal impact.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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9 Comments

  1. Walter Shwe

    I favor the complete removal of NIMBY approach by removing local government authority over land use decision making for those out of compliance with state laws and regulations. I am sick and tired of municipalities dragging their feet on the dire need for massive amounts of new housing for all income levels. The real scammers are the hordes of NIMBY obstructionists, not YIMBY advocates.

  2. Walter Shwe

    Miami votes to pilot a unique model for affordable housing
    The Miami-Dade County commission voted to establish a pilot community land trust (CLT) program last week with the goal of creating 50 units of affordable housing.
    Why it matters: A CLT is a unique model of real estate that can help keep homes affordable for generations.

    Miami is the least affordable metro in the U.S. The median list price for a home was $605,000 as of August, according to RealtyHop. 
    The county has a shortage of 135,000 affordable units for renter households earning half of the area’s median income or less, Miami New Times reported.

    https://www.axios.com/local/miami/2023/09/12/miami-affordable-housing-community-land-trust-program

  3. Jim Frame

    The county has a shortage of 135,000 affordable units

    I’m all for CLTs, but 50 units is 0.04% of the need, so a CLT isn’t going to fix the problem.  I think that situation scales down to Davis as well — there just isn’t enough funding available.

  4. Walter Shwe

    Letters to the Editor: The NIMBYs deserved to lose in Berkeley 🤣
    To the editor: In 1969 I was among those marching to preserve People’s Park in Berkeley. Contentious times. Over the years the park became something of homeless encampment, complete with a good deal of drug dealing. The area just south of campus has long had lots of students jammed into tiny apartments. We were a raucous lot.
    I doubt it is any more peaceful today. It is hard for me to understand how anyone would think that the tranquility of the area would be disturbed by building a dormitory on the site.
    https://www.latimes.com/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/story/2023-09-12/california-housing-bill-berkeley-nimbys

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