On September 15, the California State Senate voted to approve Sen. Scott Wiener’s Senate Bill 35, which proponents say streamlines the approval process for housing in cities that are not meeting state-mandated housing goals and incentivizes affordable housing development.
“The legislature took a significant step forward to address California’s housing shortage – a shortage that threatens our state’s future,” Wiener said following the state assembly’s vote on September 14. “While the package doesn’t solve our housing problems entirely . . . it’s a very healthy down payment that should make us proud.”
The bill was supported by various labor, environmental and nonprofit affordable housing developers. The California Council for Affordable Housing, California Apartment Association, California Association of Realtors, Mercy Housing and Bridge Housing also supported the bill, among others.
While California’s 33rd Senate District Rep. Ricardo Lara, along with most of the Legislature’s Democrats, supported the bill, California Assembly District 70 Rep. Patrick O’Donnell, also a Democrat, was opposed. On September 7, O’Donnell released the following statement:
“Senate Bill 35 is bad for Long Beach and bad for California. This bill has the potential to significantly restrict the ability of California cities to control new development within their boundaries. We should not plan cities or approve new local developments from Sacramento. This bill threatens neighborhoods by allowing developers to build ‘by right,’ meaning new projects will not be shaped by community input, but instead by state-imposed planning law. Cities will be forced to approve new developments without any public input as to how they look or fit in with surrounding neighborhoods.
“There are neighborhoods in and around Long Beach that serve as an example of what happens when neighborhoods are up-zoned without the parking, schools, or services to support the massive increase in density. This experience leads me to oppose SB 35.”
Josh Butler, executive director of Housing Long Beach, a housing and tenant advocacy group, said he has been and remains in support of SB 35 because it adds another tool to the toolbox when it comes to increasing housing development, particularly affordable housing. However, he noted that there is no single solution to the problem.
While the process for developer approval is streamlined, Butler noted that public input and responsible development should not go by the wayside. He said that community wants and needs should still be considered by developers.
“We’ve been building a lot of market rate housing, but we haven’t been building affordable housing,” Butler said. “So, even with SB 35 and the fast track, we still don’t have a good funding source for affordable housing. There was legislation that was passed to assist with that, but we still need a local mechanism.”
The additional affordable housing legislation that was approved includes SB 2 and SB 3. Senate Bill 2 will add a $75 fee on mortgage refinancing and other real estate transactions, excluding home and commercial property sales, while SB 3 will place a $3 billion bond on the 2018 statewide ballot. Each bill is meant to funnel money toward low-income housing financing and building low-income residential projects.
Gov. Jerry Brown has yet to sign or veto any of the three pieces of legislation.