California bills allow commercial housing with union labor

California developers will soon have new legislative tools designed to make it a little easier to build housing in the Golden State.

Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday signed a package of bills intended to promote home and apartment development in a notoriously housing-strapped state.

Bills by Congresswoman Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, and Senator Anna Caballero, D-Merced, would ease the local approval process for developers who want to build in commercial areas previously occupied by parking lots, shops supermarkets and offices. .

Newsom is expected to sign dozens of additional measures related to housing and homelessness. He will also announce $1 billion in grants for 30 housing estates funded by the state’s California Housing Accelerator program.

Labor agreement brings housing to commercial areas

Wicks and Caballero got their bills across the August legislative finish line by reaching a deal with carpenters and unions.

Joiners’ unions have backed the Wicks Assembly Bill 2011, which allows housing to be built in commercial and office corridors. The projects are “de jure”, which means that local officials have little means to oppose them. In exchange, developers must build a number of affordable units and pay workers the going wage.

If they build 50 or more units, developers must employ workers from an apprenticeship program and give them health benefits.

A companion bill from Caballero has helped appease the trades, which represent workers in all other aspects of construction. They wanted guarantees that developers would hire a “skilled and trained” or unionized workforce.

His measure, Senate Bill 6, would allow housing construction in commercial areas on a discretionary basis. Local leaders could oppose projects in these areas, but in a more limited way than they currently can.

Caballero’s bill lacks the affordable housing requirement provided in the Wicks measure, and it is aimed at developers looking to build units at market rates.

“What they get for the bill, if they use this bill, is to get the conversion of commercial real estate to residential,” Wicks said of the housing deal in august. “Which is important, and they don’t have to meet affordability requirements. They don’t have the usage rights provisions like we do. But they also lack the affordability requirements.

SB 6 has won trades approval as it requires the first two bids for developments to come from unions. If skilled and trained workers are not available, developers must still pay the going wage.

“It was a big concession,” Caballero said in August. “It helped allay some of the concerns that had been raised about qualified and trained people.”

After the AB 2011-SB 6 agreement was reached, both bills easily passed the Senate and Assembly during the final days of the legislative session.

This story was originally published September 28, 2022 10:57 a.m.

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Lindsey Holden covers the California Legislature for The Sacramento Bee. She previously reported on housing and local government for The Tribune of San Luis Obispo. Lindsey began her career at the Rockford Register Star in Illinois. She is originally from California and grew up in the Midwest, where she earned degrees from DePaul and Northwestern universities.

Bernard P. Love