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Many of the first bills introduced in the new legislative session aim to tackle housing affordability and homelessness.
The Legislature will officially reconvene early next year, but this week offered a glimpse at the big priorities and fights to come as lawmakers returned to Sacramento to be sworn in, and to introduce new bills.
Those included many bills we’ve seen before, including the most high-profile bill from last session, a measure by Sen. Scott Weiner to make it far easier to build housing near transit. The new version of the bill attempts to address various groups’ concerns that killed it last time.
Now known as SB 50, the bill would largely prevent cities from blocking new housing units within a half-mile of transit or jobs centers.
The bill hasn’t even received a hearing yet, but the San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board is already backing it: “Any serious attempt to take on the housing crisis deserves support,” the ed board wrote.
The head of California YIMBY, a group that advocates for new housing, was in San Diego and talked with KPBS about SB 50 and others that address the issue, including an effort to bring back the state’s redevelopment program.
In 2011, Gov. Jerry Brown ended redevelopment across the state. The program allowed cities to declare an area blighted, draw a circle around it and invest in construction efforts to improve it. Over time, the increase in property taxes the new buildings would generate could be kept within the area and reinvested in more projects. But a series of scandals about how it was handled, the projects it funded and its failure to deliver for schools and counties that waited for property taxes generated the pressure to kill it.
San Diego leaders including Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Assemblyman Todd Gloria have for years, however, decried the loss of redevelopment dollars that were once a major funding source for low-income housing.
Indeed, the city’s downtown development agency estimates the city has missed out on about $300 million in funding for housing projects since Brown ended the program in 2011. That money has instead flowed to schools and county services.
Now Gloria is one of many state legislators rallying behind a revised version of the program. Gloria this week joined a group of more than a dozen lawmakers, led by fellow Democratic Assemblyman David Chiu of San Francisco, to introduce AB 11. The updated redevelopment proposal – which would allow cities and counties to again set aside property taxes in designated areas – would mandate that nearly a third of the cash collected be invested in affordable housing projects, up from the previous 20 percent.
“We know the redevelopment model of years past was successful in producing needed housing units and reducing blight in our communities,” Gloria wrote in a statement this week. “A modern form with strong oversight, coupled with local commitments can make tangible progress in building more homes for Californians and creating more vibrant communities.”
Two other bills introduced this week also aim to bring back a version of redevelopment.
Gloria and others see an opening with Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, who has said he’d like to pursue a new initiative similar to redevelopment and bolster housing investments.
Gloria, a longtime affordable housing advocate, has also jumped aboard a handful of other measures.
Gloria is a co-author of a Constitutional amendment that could reduce the threshold for voter-approved infrastructure or housing property tax-supported bonds to 55 percent – down from the current high bar of two-thirds – a move likely to ease the path for a potential San Diego housing measure like the one that crumbled last summer.
He also co-wrote three other bills unveiled this week that aim to pave the way for more granny flats – smaller units often set in backyards – and joined Republican Assemblyman Brian Maienschein as a co-author of AB 10, which aims to dramatically increase tax credits the state hands awards affordable housing projects.
Housing, and homelessness, of course, have been on the Legislature’s mind for a while now – and last year, lawmakers secured hundreds of millions of dollars to help fight homelessness.
Which brings us to …
The San Diego City Council this week voted to accept $14.1 million in state funds meant to bolster the city’s homelessness response.
The influx of cash follows a June budget deal negotiated by Gov. Jerry Brown, Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins of San Diego and others that included $500 million in emergency homelessness grants for major California cities and regional groups.
The city plans to invest the new money in rental subsidies, a bolstered homeless outreach program and at least one additional homeless storage facility, among other initiatives.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who lobbied for additional homeless funds from the state, had initially proposed sinking $5 million of the state money into continued expenses for the city’s three temporary shelters and his planned housing navigation center.
City Councilman Chris Ward, who represents downtown and chairs the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, successfully urged the rest of the City Council to instead direct that cash to additional housing subsidies, a diversion program for newly homeless San Diegans and an initiative for homeless San Diegans addicted to narcotics.
“This is a onetime shot in the arm, the first time the state of California has invested so strongly and deliberatively on homelessness programs, so we want to make sure we’re using these dollars for maximum effect and deploy them where it can do the most good,” Ward said.
Keely Halsey, the mayor’s point person on homelessness and housing strategies, said Faulconer’s office was comfortable with the adjustments.
The countywide homelessness group Ward chairs is also poised to receive $18.8 million in regional aid from the state but is continuing to coordinate with the state and cities throughout the region.
State Sen. Toni Atkins’ first bill of the new legislative session would further insulate California from rollbacks of federal environmental and labor regulations.
The bill, SB 1, would make the state follow a host of federal regulations as they were before President Donald Trump took office. Atkins says the administration has sought to gradually undermine, amend and repeal some regulations, such as the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
“This measure is about preserving some of the qualities that make California such a special place to live and work, from our environment to workers’ rights,” she said in a statement.
The bill is clearly written around Trump. It says state officials should look to see if new laws weaken “federal laws in existence as of January 19, 2017,” the day before Trump was inaugurated. If the new laws are weaker, the bill says state officials should retain the stronger regulations previously in effect.
– Ry Rivard