Californians almost universally recognize that lack of metropolitan housing at all but the highest prices is one of the state’s most nagging infrastructure problems. Proposition 1C is the $2.85 billion housing component of the Examiner-supported Rebuild California $37 billion public works bond package negotiated by Gov. Schwarzenegger and the Legislature.
One anti-spending argument made by 1C opponents is that $2.85 billion is merely a drop in the bucket, since California has more than 12.1 million housing units and a population of 37 million. It is true enough that Proposition 1C makes no claim to be a complete remedy for the state’s overpriced housing market. But it does fund construction of a variety of much-needed housing that probably would otherwise not be built. Better at least to start doing some of what is needed, instead of doing nothing at all.
In some ways, Proposition 1C simply replenishes the 2002 funding of Proposition 46, which allowed issuance of $2.1 billion in general obligation bonds to support state housing programs. As of this month, the independent Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that some $350 million still remains unspent. To us, this suggests two things: State officials did not race to spend every penny without due consideration, and it is time to pass new funding to continue these programs.
This time, approximately half of the money would go to a new group of “Development Programs.” By far the largest single allocation would be $850 million in grants for basic civil infrastructure — water, sewers, transportation, parks and environmental cleanup — to provide the essential underpinnings for facilitating urban “infill” development. This is closely tied to the proposition’s third-largest item —$300 million for grants and loans to local governments and developers in encouragement of development near public transit.
These priorities should be of considerable interest to San Francisco and San Mateo County voters. Without considerably more high-density, transit-oriented infill housing, retail and office construction than has been built to date, the Bay Area’s irreplaceable green spaces will face ever-increasing pressure to be paved over for an expanding California population.
Under today’s political realities, referendums on spending tend to become cornucopias of goodies designed to appeal to as many different groups as possible.
The 10 remaining allocations in Proposition 1C largelycontinue existing funding for low-income home ownership, low-income rentals, homeless shelters and transitional housing. There is also a $200 million bond issue for statewide parks, which is likely to be popular.
Proposition IC is good for all Californians, even those of us lucky enough not to need more housing choices.