Gov. Brown’s New Budget Takes On Local Smart Growth Opponents

photo(1)With his “May revise” budget [PDF], California governor Jerry Brown cuts to the heart of why housing is so expensive in coastal California:

Local land use decisions surrounding housing production have contributed to low inventories — even though demand has steadily increased. Local land use permitting and review processes have lengthened the approval process and increased production costs. Ultimately, the state’s housing affordability will improve only with new approaches that increase the housing supply and reduce its cost. The Legislature is currently considering a number of these approaches. The May Revision proposes additional legislation requiring ministerial “by right” land use entitlements for multifamily infill housing developments that include affordable housing. This would help constrain development costs, improve the pace of housing production, and encourage an increase in housing supply. It is counterproductive to continue providing funding for affordable housing under a system that slows down approvals in areas already vetted and zoned for housing.

This approach has been tried this year by the legislature. Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) authored AB 2522, which would have provided exactly this kind of “by right” state approval for local affordable projects near transit. But my understanding is that the League of California Cities has killed it, and the bill’s status page indicates its committee hearing last month was canceled at the “request of the author.”

I’m pleased to see the governor take this issue on, but given the knotty politics and power of the local government lobby, I’m not optimistic.  Local governments will never be happy if proponents of controversial infill projects can simply go right to the state for permitting approval.

But the status quo has not worked: every local jurisdiction has an incentive to say “no” to these projects in order to appease vocal residents in opposition.  The overall result is that not enough housing gets built region-wide, leading to shortages, high housing costs, a squeezed middle class, displacement, gentrification, and a lack of older housing stock that is affordable for low-income residents.

While we see what happens with this proposal, advocates can meanwhile focus on solutions that the local government lobby can get behind, like developing new financing tools that local governments can use to pay for infill infrastructure and other costs.  Because if the governor’s proposal doesn’t fly, we should still try to make progress on this issue where we can.


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