Opinion: War on new housing rages on in California cities as construction backlogs

New Housing in Sacramento
New housing under construction in Sacramento. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr. for CalMatters

So how is the war going between the state and many, but not all, California cities over housing policy?

The war erupted a few years ago when the state Department of Housing and Community Development stepped up pressure on local governments to accommodate more housing construction, citing “decades of underproduction underscored by exclusionary policies (which) have left housing supply far behind needs and costs soaring. »

Spurred by new housing-friendly laws, the department issued much higher quotas on local governments to zone land for residential construction and created a special unit to enforce the targets. Attorney General Rob Bonta also chimed in, saying his office would crack down on dragging cities.

The war escalated last year when the Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law another law allowing duplexes to be built on lots zoned for single-family homes.

There has been a strong backlash against state decrees from some cities, especially those with wealthy residents, very expensive homes, and little or no rental properties. Their opposition ranges from lawsuits challenging the validity of the new quotas to creative local edicts, such as Woodside’s abortive effort to declare itself a refuge for mountain lions.

Woodside, with a median home value of $4.7 million, is typical of communities where opposition to zoning quotas and the duplex law is strongest. Residents of another bucolic San Francisco peninsula suburb, Atherton, with a median value of $7.9 million, are also reacting strongly.

Last month, when Mayor Rick DeGolia and other city officials held a community meeting to outline how Atherton would comply with the new laws, residents reacted with vocal opposition, with some demanding the city refuse to comply. and only pays state penalties.

The war of words took another turn in March when the state auditor’s office released a somewhat critical report on how the national housing agency calculated zoning quotas.

The auditor reviewed quotas for three California regions – Santa Barbara County, Sacramento Region and Amador County – and concluded that they had technical errors and/or lacked sufficient statistical data for their hypotheses.

“This insufficient oversight and lack of support for its considerations risks eroding public confidence that HCD is advising local governments of the appropriate number of housing units they will need,” acting auditor Michael Tilden said in a letter to the Legislative Assembly.

The department quickly agreed to correct errors and provide more data and although the relatively mild criticism was more of a blow than a major setback, critics of the state’s quota program were quick to cite it as a justification.

“I strongly believe that the auditor’s report raises enough questions for the state legislature to consider this issue and possibly consider eliminating penalties for failure to complete regional needs assessment mandates. housing, especially if we were to go back and do them again,” Councilor Novato Pat Eklund, a member of the California Alliance of Local Electeds who lobbied for the audit, told the Marin Independent Journal.

Marin County, which has the highest personal incomes in the state and has built very little new housing in recent decades, is a hotbed of opposition to zoning quotas, even though it won an exemption partial.

As the war continues, mostly in the courts, California also continues to lag in housing construction. Activity has picked up a bit in the past two years, but is still well below the 180,000 units the state needs each year and is particularly short of multi-family rental housing for poor and moderate-income families, who are the most difficult. affected by rising costs.

Dan Walters is a columnist for CalMatters, a public interest journalism company committed to explaining how the California State Capitol works and why it matters.

Bernard P. Love