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Gov. Brown’s housing plan riling up politics in SF and beyond

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Gov. Jerry Brown’s “by right” trailer bill is intended to streamline the process of building new housing, but some members of the Board of Supervisors and some building trades and environmental groups oppose the bill, arguing it could strip away environmental review and harm low-income renters. (Ryan McNulty/Special to SF Examiner)

Time is running out for Gov. Jerry Brown to approve his housing plan to streamline development throughout California, but San Francisco’s own politics on display Monday indicates just how difficult that may be.

In a special Board of Supervisors meeting Monday, Supervisor Aaron Peskin used an unusual maneuver to try and put the board on record in opposing the governor’s so-called “by right” trailer bill.

The proposal is meant to address the housing crisis throughout the state by reducing approval hurdles for development with at least 10 percent affordable housing, but it has drawn the ire of a coalition of labor, environmental and tenant rights groups. The coalition is expected to lobby Sacramento representatives today and issued a statement Monday arguing the governor’s proposal should be scrapped altogether.

Peskin’s motion came in response to Mayor Ed Lee vetoing on July 21 a resolution taking a similar policy stance. It takes eight votes to override the veto, but only six board members supported that resolution.

At Monday’s meeting, the board voted 5-2 to support Peskin’s motion, a vote short of approval and so it was defeated. The motion carries no weight of law but could have been used by The City’s state representatives in arguments for amendments. Supervisors Peskin, Norman Yee, Eric Mar, Jane Kim and London Breed supported it. Supervisors Scott Wiener and Katy Tang opposed it. Wiener called the motion “sour grapes” and said The City should work collaboratively with the governor and “not just simply oppose” his housing plan.

Peskin’s resolution and motion — a motion cannot be vetoed and is rarely used to take a policy stance — both opposed the governor’s housing plan unless amendments, which “now have widespread support,” were made. The mayor said in his July 21 veto letter that the opposition went too far and preferred collaborating with the governor to make reality one of the “innovative tools we so urgently need.”

But the State Building and Construction Trades Council, Sierra Club and other community and affordable housing groups say the streamlining proposal would strip away needed environmental review, harm low-income renters and jeopardize prevailing wages for construction workers.

The governor’s proposal would streamline developments with 10 percent affordable housing and tied to the plan is $400 million for housing development contingent upon its approval.

Tim Colen, executive director of the San Francisco Housing Coalition, a pro-development advocacy group, criticized Peskin’s motion as “profoundly anti-housing.” He argued that local development laws had stymied needed housing development for decades and the governor’s plan was a needed solution.

But Michael Theriault, a representative of the San Francisco Building and Construction Trades council, countered that Peskin’s motion “is not anti-housing.” “Housing is inevitably a more complex question than the simple production of physical buildings,” Theriault said. “It involves serving the needs of community in a variety of ways.”

Theriault, who is often on the side of Colen, said he wasn’t convinced Mayor Ed Lee’s “positive” approach is going to yield results. Peskin agreed saying the mayor’s June 13 letter to the governor asking for changes has “fallen on deaf ears at the governor’s office.”

With time running before the 2016 legislative session ends on Aug. 31, it doesn’t sound like a compromise is within reach.

“There are more challenges than momentum, but that could always change,” said a Sacramento legislative staff member familiar with the discussions.

But those discussions suffered a setback in a statement issued Monday from the more than sixty groups across the state opposing it. “After several meetings without an agreement on a variety of requested changes, we believe it is time to focus on real affordable housing solutions that don’t directly undermine local voices and place communities and our environment at risk,” the statement said.

In response, Brown’s deputy press secretary said in a statement, “We find it odd that they are walking away from talks when the conversation is just beginning. The governor has been very clear that we need to constrain development costs, improve the pace of housing production and that the $400 million in the budget is contingent upon the passage of a ‘by right’ approval process for affordable housing.”

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