A Senate bill that would have helped relieve California’s bleak housing situation has died in the Legislature. It was killed by anti-development groups and local governments that wish to continue dictating the rules of home construction.
So what comes next?
Senate Bill 827 should have been noncontroversial legislation that sailed through the Legislature to the governor’s desk. But it never got beyond the Senate Housing and Transportation Committee, which voted 6-4 to block it.
The bill, introduced by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, would have suspended several local restrictions on housing developments located near transit stations and bus stops along high-traffic routes. Had it become law, it would have stimulated construction of mid-rise developments and increased the state’s housing stock.
Wiener diluted the original bill multiple times to placate opponents. But even that didn’t work. Blocking the doorway were “residents from wealthier, single-family home neighborhoods, who deployed the traditional NIMBY argument that the bill imperiled neighborhood character and would lead to traffic and parking woes,” according to City Lab, as well as interests “who argued that the law would enrich developers and exacerbate gentrification in low-income minority neighborhoods.”
Local governments also put up a sufficient fuss. Supervisor Katy Tang complained the legislation was “far too overreaching in terms of not allowing local jurisdictions to have a say over what kind of development we want and where it would take place and what sort of public value we’d want to recapture out of developments.”
Cities might bristle at giving up local control in the way imposed by SB 827. But it is within the state’s power to do so.
“Preemption of local land-use regulations is a legal recourse of state governments because municipalities are ‘creatures of their states,’” said scholars at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, who saw the bill as a positive means “to increase housing supply growth and improve affordability.”
Last September, lawmakers held a “Housing Day,” passing more than a dozen housing-related bills that were signed by Gov. Jerry Brown. There was more than a whiff of self-congratulation in the air, but it was little more than histrionics. The new laws will never ease the crisis. Rather than lift government intrusion and let the market correct the problem, the legislation added further layers.
Of course, these bills were allowed to become law for that very reason. Meanwhile, a bill that would have removed government hurdles was rejected.
There is some feeling that Wiener’s bill needs more time. UC San Diego professor Thad Kousser suggested that SB 827 is a groundbreaking bill similar to Proposition 13 in terms of potential impact, and because of that it could take years to finally become law.
“Sometimes ideas need the right political conditions,” he said.
Anya Lawler with the Western Center on Law and Poverty says SB 827 is “just not the sort of bill that you can introduce in January and have tied up with a bow by April.”
But the legislation was far more modest than radical. A revolutionary proposal would overhaul the California Environmental Act, which is the biggest drag on state housing development. SB 827 is mere tweak in comparison. And still the Senate committee refused to move it forward.
One wonders if, given time, the housing crisis will simply resolve itself. California is already leaking people and companies in large numbers due to problems ranging from unaffordable housing and high taxation to widespread government ill will toward businesses. If the outflow increases over several years, the shortage eventually won’t be so severe. It could take decades, but at times it seems that this is the course we’re on.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.