PD Editorial: Another year of inaction on state’s housing crisis

Wait till next year.

That's the message a Southern California legislator delivered to anyone hoping Sacramento could do something substantial in 2019 to ease the state's housing crunch.

State Sen. Anthony Portantino, a Democrat from La Cañada Flintridge, an upscale suburb of Los Angeles, chairs the powerful Appropriations Committee. At the start of a hearing Thursday, the deadline to move legislation to the Senate floor, Portantino announced that SB 50, this year's best known and boldest housing bill, wasn't going anywhere. No hearing, no vote, no explanation.

In fairness, Portantino is pushing his own plan. As described by Los Angeles Times columnist Kerry Cavanaugh: Portantino wants to create a “California Housing Crisis Awareness” license plate, with the money going into an existing fund to help moderate-income homebuyers. Wow.

Portantino's bill didn't go anywhere either. Surprised?

The high cost and short supply of housing in California is no secret. Pete Golis reprises a few lowlights in his Sunday column: rents beyond the reach of six-figure incomes in 72% of Bay Area Zip codes, with a median one-bedroom in San Francisco going for $42,000 a year. The landscape isn't any better for would-be homebuyers.

Last year, California added just 77,000 housing units, according to the state Department of Finance. That's fewer than 2017, which was fewer than 2016.

By 2025, the state is projecting a shortage of 1.5 million affordable housing units - the houses and apartments needed for teachers, mechanics and other working-class residents - state Sen. Mike McGuire told the Editorial Board. “There is no silver bullet,” he said.

But McGuire, D-Healdsburg, has been working with state Sen. Scott Weiner, D-San Francisco, the sponsor of SB 50.

Their goal is to promote multi-family housing development by private-sector builders near SMART and other rail lines, bus routes and major employment centers. Some aspects of their strategy, such as allowing more units in residential buildings near rail lines, already have been enacted in Santa Rosa.

SB 50 also seeks to ensure that affordable units actually get built when they are required to secure approval for a market-rate development. The bill also would allow fourplexes in residential neighborhoods.

Even if it hadn't been held in committee, SB 50 had some big hurdles in its path, including opposition from cities and counties that don't want to cede control over development.

McGuire, who chairs the local government committee, persuaded Weiner to exempt counties with fewer than 600,000 residents and cities with fewer than 50,000 residents to alleviate concerns about mid-rise and high-rise development in smaller cities. In the North Bay, that means the new rules would apply only to Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Novato and San Rafael.

“No community should see radical change,” McGuire said. “Every community should see some change.”

McGuire and Weiner say they will push for SB 50 next year.

In the interim, they should consider separating the proposal into two bills: one facilitating development in busy transit corridors, the other addressing construction of fourplexes, or conversion of existing houses, in single-family neighborhoods - a major change in California building patterns, and the source of much resistance to SB 50. The issues are different, and, if they are considered separately, opposition to one may not block progress for the other.

Still, another year appears to be lost at a time when California can't afford to keep waiting for a housing fix.

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