Commentary: State Has Prioritized Housing, but Still Messing Around the Edges

Photo by Kimson Doan on Unsplash

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Sacramento, CA – As another legislative session winds down, a big focus will be on housing both locally and statewide.

This session perhaps the two biggest issues regarding housing are the extension of SB 35 and the potential for CEQA reform.

Back in August, the LA Times did a report that found that SB 35 “led to the construction of thousands of new homes across California.

“Between 2018 and 2021, Senate Bill 35 has led to 156 pending and approved housing projects in California, according to an updated study published Thursday by the UC Berkeley Terner Center for Housing Innovation. Those projects total 18,215 proposed new units,” the Times reported.

They added, “…The report specifically showed how SB 35 has been used to bolster affordable housing stocks in cities across the state. Of the 156 projects, nearly two-thirds are considered 100% affordable, meaning the housing was built specifically for lower-income families.”

As Senator Wiener argues, “The numbers don’t lie: SB 35 has already made a huge difference for our state. We MUST build on our progress and continue working to address our state’s housing crisis.”

As his legislation advanced this past week, Senator Wiener stated, “Our legislation to tackle the housing crisis, address climate change, and lower healthcare costs are first-in-the-nation measures that take bold steps to address some of the most serious challenges facing everyday Californians.”

But housing experts believe that California needs far more housing and while 18,215 new proposed units is a start, it’s also barely a drop in the bucket.

The Sacramento Bee, in an editorial this weekend, noted a battle in my old neck of the woods—Nipomo, in southern San Luis Obispo County.

A project, Dana Reserve, “would include 1,318 housing units, from multi-family housing to high-end, single-family homes. There also would be parks and trails, a commercial center, a daycare facility, a site reserved for a satellite community college campus and another parcel set aside for a fire station.”

The Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to move the application for processing in January 2021.

But, “Opponents say it’s the wrong location for a variety of reasons: It would destroy too much natural habitat, including 3,000 mature oak trees, increase traffic and put a strain on local schools.”

And while it would include some affordable units, “there also would be 417 houses for 55+ buyers priced in the $1 million-and-up range.”

Sound familiar?

Of course San Luis Obispo County is one of the most expensive housing markets in the state.

Writes the Bee: “The project is not ideal — no project ever is.  Would it be better if it weren’t quite so large, were located in a less environmentally sensitive area, and included fewer high-end homes and more lower-priced units?

“Absolutely, and there may still be room to negotiate for some changes. But the time to issue an outright denial was back in 2021, before the Board of Supervisors authorized moving forward with the project.”

Increasingly I see the perfect as the enemy of the good.

We clearly have to take seriously environmental impacts but one of the problems that I repeatedly point out is that, while we can point to the impact of building housing, we don’t do a very good job of demonstrating and evaluating the impact of NOT building housing.

As UC Davis Law Professor Chris Elmendorf recently wrong in the LA Times, “CEQA has been ‘weaponized’ by ‘wealthy homeowners’ (among others) to block housing — often in the urban and suburban areas where people have the least environmental impact.”

And yet, when it comes to fixing CEQA and other laws, Governor Newsom has talked a good game, but failed to deliver.

“Newsom’s big push to reform a ‘broken’ law won him a statutory right to implore judges to speed up a few more cases — and little else,” Elmendorf argues.

That’s what I’ve seen across the board.  The state is willing to do some streamlining, it is willing to push cities through litigation to build more housing, but a lot of what has been done is simply rearrange the deck chairs as the ship goes down.

For all the talk about Builder’s Remedy, we aren’t going solve the housing crisis through its streamlining.


Well let’s look at Davis.  The number of projects introduced under Builder’s Remedy so far has been two.  One reason is that even with streamlined approvals, 20 percent is a high barrier.

And with one project, even if it falls under Builder’s Remedy, there is still the question about Measure J, which means that the voters will still have to approve the project—OR in the alternative, the applicant can wage a lengthy and potentially futile fight to do an end around, which they thus far have shown no inclination to do.

If the state wants to give Builder’s Remedy teeth, find a way to fund 20 percent affordable housing.  I’m still not convinced it would be a game changer, but at least, then more projects could be built.

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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  1. Walter Shwe

    The most straightforward path to solving the inter-related issues of housing supply and affordability are for California to enact and strictly enforce a statewide legislative ban on all city and county slow growth ordinances. In exchange for giving YIMBYs greater latitude, the new law should also require a minimum of 15% very low income affordable units on all housing developments irregardless of size. Restrictions should put in place to ensure that when those very low income units turnover, the same affordability continues unabated for terms of not less than 50 years. In tandem to a new state statute, the CEQA needs to be amended somehow to disincentivize NIMBYs from weaponizing the CEQA for their own highly selfish and elitist purposes.

  2. Tim Keller

    The most straightforward path to solving the inter-related issues of housing supply and affordability are for California to enact and strictly enforce a statewide legislative ban on all city and county slow growth ordinances.

    While I agree that anti-growth ordinances are choking out out state….  I dont think that a mass repeal is a good idea other… The free market is pretty bad at making good long-term decisions especially when it comes to environmental and sociological externalities.    ( IE developers dont have appropriate incentives to develop in sustainable ways, or in ways that are good long-term for the cities, or that dont snarl traffice etc etc etc… )  All of that is the domain of a competent government planning function which really DOES need to do its work… and if we remove the teeth from that kind of planning and oversight too agressivley, we end up with something potentially even worse than doing nothing…

    So I think I’m a fan of what the state is doing… providing a nudge for cities to “figure out what works for them” but not dictating how they do it.   I still think the best way to do decisionmaking is “as local as possible”

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