Livable California goes to Sacramento to argue against SB 828

LC1by: Susan Kirsch : marinpost

A five-member team traveled to the State Capitol on Monday, May 21 and met with Senator Ricardo Lara, Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, aides of Appropriations Vice Chair Senator Patricia Bates, and the aides of Senators Jim Beall, Steven Bradford, Jerry Hill, and Jim Nielsen.

Our team consisted of Jorge Castaneda (Coalition to Preserve LACoalition to Preserve LA), Tes Welborn (Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council), Michael Goldman (Sunnyvale City Council memberSunnyvale City Council member), Susan Kirsch (Livable California), and Ileana Wachtel (Coalition to Preserve LA)

Our message was clear.

Reject Scott Wiener’s SB-828, which changes the methodology for calculating Regional Housing Need Assessments (RHNA) quotas.

Unfortunately, as of Friday, May 25, Senate Bill 828 had survived with a mishmash of amendments. Even with those amendments, the bill remains riddled with problems, most of which is that it lacks any plausible reason to even be considered.

Sunnyvale City Council member Michael Goldman pointed out the fallacy of the one-size-fits-all bill that would require every city and county to zone for housing at all income levels, as a magic solution to our affordable housing crisis.

As Goldman stated,

“Cities don’t construct housing, developers do. Cities can’t make developers build low income housing. Threats to penalize cities for not meeting RHNA quotas don’t have impact when it is the builders who are not building. Land in the South Bay is selling for $7M to $10M per acre. At this rate, it is impossible to get developers to construct affordable housing without subsidies from the state. In addition, housing is a net drain on city finances while office space is a net plus.”

Haight Ashbury community leader Tes Welborn described how residents are already stepping up with housing solutions. San Francisco passed a bond measure to tax themselves in order to get funding for more housing.

“SB-828’s top-down, heavy-handed approach ignores the work of cities like San Francisco, Wiener’s home district,” Welborn said, pointing out that Wiener didn’t talk to his constituents about the bill. “It caters to developers’ profit motives and escalates tensions between cities, counties and the legislators, rather than foster a collaborative approach to meet housing needs.”

Ileana Wachtel and Jorge Castaneda, Coalition to Preserve LA, presented facts and figures from the West LA Community Plan Area that show unbuilt zoning capacity that meets housing needs at all income levels. “The zoning already exists,” Wachtel explained, “but developers fail to build, holding out for greater profit margins.” Wachtel added, “This bill threatens to permanently, unnecessarily destroy open space, industrial land, and parklands.”

I wrapped up the presentation with a recap of why the Senate Appropriations staff report recommended allowing this bill to die in committee. The bill increases state expenses over $2.3M in the first two years and then adds an estimated annual expense of $741,000.

But more troublesome, the bill doesn’t make provisions to cover the local costs to implement it. The bill concludes,

No reimbursement is required . . . because a local agency or school district has the authority to levy service charges, fees, or assessments sufficient to pay for the program or level of service mandated by the act.

In other words, it is an unfunded state mandate.

Considerable administrative expenses and the costs of providing public services will all be passed on to local cities and counties (and local taxpayers), but they will need to fend for themselves to find the money, while developers will reap bigger and bigger profits.

Perhaps it’s this irresponsible scenario that prompted the California Chapter of the American Planning Association, in their letter of opposition to SB-828, to write,

New RHNA requirements that simply can’t be met would set up local governments to fail.

Livable California is grateful to the members of the Senate Appropriations Committee and their staff for meeting with us.We’re inspired by working together to combine the power and diversity of Northern and Southern California; large and small cities; and elected and volunteer community leaders.

Good government is possible when we work for it on a regular basis. It’s not enough to cast our votes in an election and think our part is over.

If you’d like to know more about Livable California, visit our website at

You’re invited to join us as we strive to work smarter, not just harder.

Thanks for your efforts to stop the spread of state control over local jurisdiction over local land use issues. The future we take the power away from the communities the less influence we have over how our government functions. Leaders are only leaders when they serve the people. They lose their power and influence when they try to force unwanted changes on their constituents.


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