Sunday Commentary: Has the State Been Put on Notice to Fix the Housing Crisis or Lose Control?

Photo by Blake Wheeler on Unsplash

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

This week, we saw Senator Scott Wiener celebrate the passage of his Builder’s Remedy streamlining extension in the Assembly—meaning it will most likely be signed into law.  The Governor celebrated the signing of Buffy Wicks’ bill that fixes the Berkeley CEQA loophole.

Not to take anything away from those legislators and their achievements, but the needle is barely being moved.  The housing crisis is getting worse not better, and it is threatening to undermine the future of the state of California.

We needed large-scale CEQA reform, not to mention funding for affordable housing.  Neither of which the Governor or legislature has been able to deliver.

And so we are left with this long, slow, arduous process whereby the state and maybe the occasional outside entity like California YIMBY or Legal Services will step in and file a lawsuit that has to slowly go through the system.

We are reminded just how long this takes locally when the city gets yet another letter in the past week warning it will face repercussions if a housing plan is not certified by the state.  But while the city has been attempting to diligently find more property to rezone for housing, it has left the structural impediments in place to address another day.

All of this is starting to remind me of the lead up to Prop. 13.  In the 1970s, rising property values and their accompanying increase in property taxes were pricing people out of their homes.  But the Governor and legislature failed to act and, eventually, the anti-tax folks passed an extremely draconian measure.

Yes, Prop. 13 fixed the problem of rising property taxes for existing owners, but it created a four decades long mess which made it very difficult if not impossible to raise local property taxes to fund things like schools and municipal governments.

That’s kind of how I reacted to the proposal from former Fox News Host Steve Hilton.

Hilton may not have the funding muscle behind him like the Jarvis-Gann Initiative had, but in times of mounting frustration, people might be willing to pass draconian measures.

As Hilton noted, “There have been over 100 pieces of legislation on housing in the last five years, but we are nowhere close to meeting demand, or the promise of 3.5 million new homes that was made five years ago.”

As the initiative notes, “Despite hundreds of changes to housing laws since the Legislature first declared a severe housing shortage in 1982, California continues to suffer from a housing affordability and supply crisis that has harmed millions of hard working Californians who cannot  afford to buy a home, live where they grew up near parents and grandparents, afford the ever-increasing cost of living in California, or afford to continue to pay for housing ‘solutions’ that worsen homelessness, substance abuse disorders, and perpetuates crime and public disorder.”

So how does he propose to fix the problems?

First, he would end CEQA abuse by ending the “private right of action”—only county DAs or the state Attorney General would be able to file CEQA lawsuits.

Second, he would cap impact fees:  “One of the main drivers of astronomical housing costs is the explosion in so-called ‘Impact Fees’ being charged on new housing construction. These are effectively a tax on house-building and create an incentive for only expensive homes to be built,” he writes.

The Initiative would cap fees at 3% of the combined construction and labor cost of a new home.

Finally, it would create a construction worker housing fund to address a shortage of construction workers.

The CEQA proposal is interesting.  That would definitely kill CEQA lawsuit abuse.  Does it go too far relying only on the government?  I suspect a number of people would argue that’s putting the fox as the guard of the henhouse, but right now, CEQA is crippling the ability of California to get reasonable bills.

There is probably a better fix to CEQA than this one-size-fits-all approach—but if the legislature doesn’t take it up, then it’s a nonstarter.

The other point, raised by one of our commenters, is the capping of impact fees.

“If passed, this initiative will allow for the building of housing almost anywhere in California without paying even the most needed of fees for civic infrastructure,” they write.  “The outcome will be the the bankruptcy of many of our jurisdictions.”

That’s a legitimate concern here and no doubt organizations like the League of California Cities will be in opposition for this very reason.

While I agree that fees are problem, they are only one factor in the costs of construction, which is one factor in the cost of housing.

This measure, in short, deals with two planks, but doesn’t address the approval process and does not address affordable housing or the funding thereof.

Of course, this is what you get when a conservative attempts to solve housing problems—they address the issue on the regulatory end.

That’s fine.  But here’s the thing.  I don’t think this measure addresses the fundamentals of the housing crisis other than CEQA and it will—if passed by the voters—make it difficult to address impact fees in the future.

Better if the legislature crafts careful legislation.  But the Governor has shown that, while he’s happy to nibble on the edges and he and the AG are happy to compel cities to act, neither the Governor nor legislature has enacted core legislation to address the heart of the housing crisis.  Until they do, there is a danger that the voters will support a more draconian way of addressing the issue.

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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3 Comments

  1. Walter Shwe

    Unfortunately it just might take a cap on impact fees and the resulting municipal bankruptcies to wake up the populace that starving city governments is the wrong thing to do. It seems that some want their government services essentially for free.

  2. David Thompson

    David is absolutely correct on this part of the housing muddle.

    WE had a property tax problem and Prop 13, initiated by Jarvis/Gann  was a simple vote to to take by frustrated home-owner voter. Prop 13 disallows more appropriate and fairer methods from being debated or used.  We have built years of faulty quasi solutions on the wrong foundation of Prop 13.

    Hilton’s petition could have the same simple appeal to a Californian electorate just fed up with the lack of progress on homelessness, affordable housing, cost of housing and the length of delays.

    As in Prop 13, the  voter could easily be attracted to an easy to do yes vote to blow up the existing system without contemplating the unintended impact. I feel that given the atmosphere, Hilton’s petition could very well pass without containing any solutions to homelessness and affordable housing. A ‘Third World’ future is on the California horizon.

    I fear that state government lacks the capacity to get in front of the problem and with a tick in one box, the voter has an easy option that costs nothing to take.

    My own thoughts and not representative of Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation or Neighborhood Partners, LLC.

     

     

     

     

     

    1. David Greenwald

      “Hilton’s petition could have the same simple appeal to a Californian electorate just fed up with the lack of progress on homelessness, affordable housing, cost of housing and the length of delays.”

      There are a few of these that I’m worried about. There is also a homeless one that the Yolo DA is backing that doesn’t include anything on housing.

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