Track California bills passed in 2022

Abandoned businesses at a mall in Fresno on August 25, 2022. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local

By Manuela Tobias

WHAT THE TWO BILLS WOULD DO

FY 2011by Democratic Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks of Oakland, would be accelerated housing development along the ubiquitous malls that line California highways. In order to avoid lengthy and costly local review processes, including the California’s dreaded Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, developers would pay their workers union-level wages and in larger projects, offer apprenticeships and health benefits, and cap at least some rent. Apartments should be either 100% affordable or mixed-use, i.e. market priced but affordable to at least 15% of lower income employees, i.e. 8% of very low-income employees and 5% of very low-income employees.
SB 6, by Democratic Senator Anna Caballero de Salinas, would circumvent the first step of allowing housing on commercial real estate while allowing other local supply opportunities, such as the CEQA. It applies to a much wider strip of land and does not cap rents, but developers must use at least some union work on each project. If two or more union shops fail to bid on the project, union wages come into play.

WHO SUPPORTS THEM

The building and construction trades, an umbrella union of 450,000 workers, and the largest labor federation behind them, back SB 6, while the state carpenters union and affordable housing developers backed the ‘AB 2011. The biggest unions have abandoned their deadly opposition to AB 2011 once the Assembly and the Senate reached an agreement who let both bills pass. Pro-housing activists Yes in My Backyard, or YIMBY, who have been trying to increase density through similar measures for years, are among the proposal’s loudest cheerleaders.

WHO IS AGAINST

Dozens of cities and local control advocates say the bills take away a critical input from neighborhoods in development decisions and fear local governments could lose tax revenue from commercial properties. The Assembly bill, which razes more neighborhood forums, has a longer list of opponents. Equity groups who initially pushed for higher accessibility requirements in both bills have had to settle for less, while developers fear that labor and accessibility standards will be too high to be respected.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT

California needs 2.5 million more homes by 2030 and hardly anyone wants them in their backyard. These bills would unlock a glut of empty shops, offices and parking lots for up to 1.6 million homes — if market conditions permit — without contributing to urban sprawl. The labor truce also matters: After years of heated debate and dead bills, the unions have put their differences aside, at least for this year.

APPEAL FROM THE GOVERNOR

Newsom signed both bills on September 28.

After calling housing affordability California’s “original sin,” Newsom said those housing bills would be different. “It’s a great moment as we begin…to take responsibility,” he told a news conference in San Francisco. “Not to give the same speech and expect the same applause, but to start doing something about it.”

Bernard P. Love