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A residential housing complex in New York. Stock photo
A residential housing complex in New York. Stock photo
California Focus Community Commentary Opinion Opinions

Elias: Facts don’t matter to California’s densifying Democrats

There appears to be no end to the new laws that Sacramento’s dominant Democratic legislators want to pass in their effort to make California at least as dense as New York state.

Their latest effort seems likely to be as onerous — and unsuccessful — at this task as the infamous 2021 SB 9 and SB 10, which effectively end single family residence (R-1) zoning everywhere in this highly varied state.

The two earlier laws — which may face a referendum to cancel them in the 2024 election — have so far had little effect.

They allow all but the smallest current R-1 lots to be split in two, with each lot eligible for a duplex and a small additional dwelling unit, also known as a “granny flat.” Cities and counties cannot nix such efforts to multiply housing units by a 6-1 ratio over current levels.

But it’s not happening on a large scale, very possibly because the state housing shortage estimates they were designed to mitigate probably are nowhere near accurate. The actual housing shortage appears to be far smaller than levels claimed by the state Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).

Using HCD numbers, Gov. Gavin Newsom campaigned hard in 2018 for construction of 3.5 million new units by 2025, but fewer than half a million have actually been built on his four-year watch.

Newsom now says just 1.8 million new units are needed, half what he claimed four years ago. And a springtime report from the nonpartisan state auditor found HCD figures lack solid documentation, suggesting the real need may be far lower than even Newsom’s latest numbers, which he proffered without any documentation.

Now come the legislators with a new bill called AB 2011, based on a supposed HCD estimate of 2.5 million new housing units needed as soon as possible.

This proposed law, titled the Affordable Housing and High Road Jobs Act of 2022, offers no explanation of what a High Road job might be, except that any building under its auspices would require that all labor be paid union wages — in short, the highest in the construction industry.

No wonder several under-construction affordable housing projects are coming in right now at more than $1 million in building costs per unit.

These may be offered at below-market rents to some Californians, but they in no way are affordable for the taxpayers who are actually footing most of the costs.

AB 2011 is different and probably even less affordable to local taxpayers than the laws that spawned the current hyper-expensive housing construction.

It provides a “ministerial” approval process for all affordable or low-rent housing proposed along commercial transportation corridors.

In short, this means automatic approval by a rubber-stamping official in each city or county where developers might want to build along major streets and highways.

It makes such projects exempt from virtually all laws governing environmental or neighborhood impacts of these purported new buildings, which must also offer ground-floor commercial space.

But if a developer finds a project approved under these terms doesn’t “pencil out,” a portion of the units can be rented or sold at market rates much higher than so-called affordable housing.

Even the state’s building trade unions don’t like that. “The bill provides a path to developer profits with little protection for workers or meaningful impact from community members,” said a statement from the state’s Building and Construction Trades Council.

So even the unions, which enthusiastically backed SB 9, SB 10 and other densifying measures passed over the last five years don’t much like this one.

Some opponents note both the unreliability of HCD need estimates and the fact that many investors and speculators buying up existing housing are keeping it vacant, producing what is essentially a false, manufactured housing shortage designed to keep prices up.

So this latest densifying proposal, sponsored by Democratic Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks of Oakland, may have too many flaws to make it past a very pro-density Legislature and an even more pro-housing governor.

But maybe not. The flaws in SB 9, SB 10 and other densifying measures that did pass were just as evident as those afflicting the newest proposal, yet they passed handily and Newsom signed them into law. So what’s to stop this one, too?

Email Thomas Elias at [email protected].

2 comments

Virtuous July 26, 2022 at 6:37 am

Republicans are the real traitors, not just in California, but nationwide as well. Republicans are pushing to cut legal immigration in half, thereby sharply reducing the pool of available construction labor.

steve333 July 22, 2022 at 3:32 pm

This is what single party dominance does to a State. The Democratic party should just change their name to The Developer Party of California. None of these corrupt traitors care a whit about affordable housing, they will just do the bidding of their developer overlords.
There is a long list of politicians who should be voted out of Office and never voted for again:
Gavin Newsom, Toni Atkins, Scott Weiner, Catherine Blakespear, Tony Kranz, Joy Lyndes, Todd Gloria and the entire SD City Council, etc etc They all work for Developers and will do anything and everything they want.
Wake up California before it’s too late.

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