Anti-worker or Pro-Worker? Why Labor Unions are Fighting Over a Housing Hill

More than two dozen men and women clad in hard hats and safety vests filed into a crowded hearing room April 27 to cheer on yet another bill trying to solve California’s housing crisis.

The Affordable Housing and High Road Jobs Act would allow developers to fast-track local approval to build affordable housing where offices, strip malls and parking lots sit right now. But it has quickly become one of the most hotly contested bills in the California Legislature because the labor requirements on those projects satisfy some but not most unions. The bill, introduced by Assembly Housing Chair Buffy Wicks, mirrors multiple bills that died in recent years as a result of squabbling between developers and labor unions.

The men and women in hard hats, however, were carpenters, and so represented something previous bills didn’t have: Support from both developers and some construction unions.

But despite the neon flashes in a sea of suits, the impasse is far from over.

Following the carpenters, a parade of electricians, pipe-fitters, ironworkers and drywallers — wearing union logos but no hard hats — stepped up to the microphone to voice their disapproval. While the state’s Conference of Carpenters, which represents about 82,000 workers, co-sponsored the bill, the Building and Construction Trades Council — an umbrella labor group known colloquially as “the Trades” and spanning almost half a million workers in nearly every other construction industry — remains vehemently opposed. The California Labor Federation, which represents more than 1 million members including the Trades, said they “stand in strong solidarity” with the Trades. 

After several years of gridlock, the rare split within the construction unions presents both an awkward conundrum and a potential for compromise on a proposal that would free up swaths of land for development of affordable housing. It certainly makes it harder to paint bill supporters as anti-labor — a phrase that amounts to slander for politicians in deep blue California.

Longtime Democratic strategist Garry South said lawmakers may have to calculate which facet of organized labor will cause them the most pain during a major election year. And the Trades, which contribute tens of millions of dollars in campaigns and engage in aggressive lobbying, remain a force to be reckoned with. According to a CalMatters analysis of the 2022 races so far, state and local Trades councils have contributed more than $1 million to political candidates while carpenters groups have given more than $800,000.

But as the housing crisis reaches a fever pitch among voters, South said “elected officials will ignore it at their own peril.”

That’s the motivating factor for the bill’s author.

“I don’t want to be the housing chair presiding over inertia and status quo,” said Wicks, a Democrat from Oakland. “Here’s the reality: I and 79 of my other colleagues in the Assembly every weekend go home to constituents who are homeless, constituents who have to live in people’s garages, constituents who are squeezed out of their house, who are living in motels, who are living in their cars, who are being evicted or experiencing foreclosure, or who are barely hanging on. That is simply not okay. And so what that means is building more low-income and middle-income housing. And that’s what this bill does.”

What does the labor language really say?

The bill, which has the support of Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, would allow housing that is 100% affordable to low-income households to be built “by right” on areas now zoned for offices, retail and parking. That means skipping many city council meetings that tack on costly delays as well as the state’s premier environmental law many blame for its housing woes. Livable California, a local control group, has already dubbed it “the worst bill of 2022.”

The bill would also allow mixed-income housing, with a minimum of 15% of units affordable to low-income households for rent or 30% of units affordable to moderate-income households for sale, along commercial corridors such as strip malls.

The Carpenters and the Trades are at loggerheads over how much unionized labor developers would have to use to take advantage of the streamlining. The Trades are pushing for language requiring a certain amount of the workforce be graduates of an apprenticeship program, which effectively means union members. That’s common for public works, but unusual for residential construction. 

A 2019 Trades-commissioned study found less than a fifth of construction workers across California were unionized in 2017, a number likely lower in the residential sector.

Developers argue the standard — that at least 30% or in some cases 60% of the workers in each trade for a given project be graduates of an apprenticeship program, most of which are run by unions — is too hard to meet, particularly in areas of the state lacking in apprenticeship programs. The Carpenters agree.

“If you had a standard that can’t be met when you need to move forward on construction then it’s not a standard, it’s a barrier,” said Daniel Curtin, director of the California Conference of Carpenters.

Click here to read the full article at CALMatters

Exclusive: Housing Debate Has Dominated Campos and Haney’s Assembly Race. New Reports Uncover Their Track Records

Anurupa Ganguly loved living in Brooklyn. She loved its diversity, restaurants, culture and walkability. When she felt pulled back to her home state of California, she zeroed in on San Francisco’s Mission District as a similar neighborhood.

It was similar — except for the housing options. In New York City, she’d moved a few times, often finding a new unit the same weekend she started looking. In the Mission, vacancies were incredibly sparse — and expensive.

But she and her husband managed to rent a small one-bedroom apartment at 1188 Valencia St. in February 2021 for $3,900 a month plus $400 for utilities and a storage unit. Like many San Franciscans, they’re now hooked. Unlike many San Franciscans, they plan to stick around when they have kids.

“We’ve really fallen in love with our home here and the community here and the work we do here,” said Ganguly, 36.

Ganguly’s new life, though, wouldn’t be possible if then-Supervisor David Campos had gotten his way back in 2015 — because her home probably wouldn’t exist.

The building with about 50 residences, including six below-market-rate units, is home to a diverse mix of people, many of them families living in larger units with children. But the development would have been significantly delayed, if it had been built at all, if Campos’ proposed 18-month halt on construction of market-rate housing in the Mission — with an option to extend it to 30 months — had passed muster at the board or ballot box. Even Campos himself now acknowledges the moratorium was not a good idea.

That’s a central point made in a new report examining Campos’ housing record — and another looking at the record of his state Assembly opponent, Supervisor Matt Haney — by a UC Berkeley associate professor of political science and avowed YIMBY who wants to see more housing built all over the city. And who, for the record, is voting for Haney.

David Broockman, working in his spare time, has taken on the mind-numbing task of plumbing planning documents, watching government meetings and filing public records requests to analyze the housing records of San Francisco’s leaders, one by one. (You may recall his first report on Supervisor Dean Preston, whom he called “the worst offender” when it comes to halting housing on a board with several candidates for the title.)

Broockman plans more deep dives into the housing track records of the supervisors up for re-election in November.

As the Assembly race nears its April 19 finish line, housing — or San Francisco’s lack thereof — has become a primary focus. It’s obvious that the city and state, both grappling with a major housing shortage and affordability crisis, need more places for people of all income levels to live. It’s also obvious that the Board of Supervisors hasn’t done nearly enough to approve that housing, and that the city makes it far too hard and expensive to build the units that do manage to get approved.

Clearly, our housing crisis isn’t the fault of any one elected official, but emanates from an overall desire by too many residents and their leaders to freeze certain San Francisco neighborhoods in amber, pretend the basic laws of supply and demand don’t exist, and continue to see their own home values skyrocket.

Still, it’s crucial to look at individual leaders’ track records and hold them to account.

As Broockman explained, “For any individual project, there are often excuses that sound reasonable, but it’s only by zooming out that you get a sense of the overall pattern.”

Click here to read the full article at the San Francisco Chronicle

As California’s Eviction Protections Wane, Renters Grow Uneasy

New bill would offer limited extension of eviction moratorium

Melissa Lopez struggled through unemployment, homelessness and illness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The single mother finally secured a one-bedroom apartment in San Jose for her young boy and adult daughter with help from nonprofit Amigos de Guadalupe.

But Lopez left her job as a security guard to take care of her son and her health and owed $9,000 in rent. She applied in October for California’s emergency rental assistance program. While she waited months to get approved, her landlord served her multiple eviction notices. State renter protections allowed her to fend off displacement.

On April 1, those protections are due to expire. Lopez is waiting on a second aid application, and might not be able to pay next month’s rent. “It’s been concerning,” she said.

A new bill could offer a reprieve for Lopez and tens of thousands of Bay Area renters still waiting for the state to review their applications for help. But millions of other tenants not covered under the new bill face uncertainty, upheaval, and even displacement as state courts open more broadly to eviction suits for unpaid rent.

For months, tenant advocates have warned of an “eviction tsunami” when state protections end. Landlords generally were prohibited from displacing tenants for failing to pay rent during the pandemic as long as tenants had applied to the state or another local government program for aid.

But the state program, Housing is Key, has been overwhelmed by applications. Tenants and landlords say the process is confusing, slow and often unresponsive to the needs of non-native English speakers. More than half of applicants are still waiting for their files to be reviewed, according to an analysis by the National Equity Atlas.

The gradual end of renter protections could put many California renters in peril – if they haven’t sought assistance and don’t pay April rent. Housing experts now expect a flood of evictions to hit courtrooms around the state in mid-April.

The new bill, AB 2179, backed by legislative leaders and Gov. Gavin Newsom, could offer three more months of an eviction moratorium for a fraction of at-risk renters: the estimated 366,000 California tenants who, like Lopez, are waiting for their requests for back rent and utilities to be processed.

At least 44,000 Bay Area renter families are still waiting on the emergency assistance program, according to the National Equity Atlas. Researchers estimate 740,000 California tenants – out of the state’s 17 million renters – were behind in rent in February.

The $5.6 billion state relief effort, funded by federal pandemic assistance, has distributed about $2.5 billion in the last 12 months. Separate, smaller city and county programs, along with private charities, have also handed out millions in aid.

The bill would mark California’s fourth extension of eviction protections, and is expected to be considered in committee Monday. It would extend the eviction moratorium through June 30 – but only for tenants with active applications in the state relief program. The bill would also pre-empt local efforts to impose new moratoriums in cities and counties, a provision broadly favored by landlords. Local restrictions being considered in San Jose and San Francisco, for example, would be illegal. Local protections in Oakland and Alameda County are already being challenged in court.

“We need to protect eligible renters who have applied for relief funds but haven’t received them yet, or who will apply before the March 31 deadline,” Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, said in a joint statement. “We made a commitment to those who are in line and they shouldn’t be harmed because of how long the process is taking.”

Debra Carlton of the California Apartment Association said the proposal would allow landlords to get rid of tenants who have a history of non-payment and who haven’t applied for the state program.  “The time has come,” she said. “We’re coming out of the pandemic.”

The proposed, limited extension is a let-down for tenant advocates. A coalition of nonprofits lobbied lawmakers to extend the relief program and accept new applicants until August and add state funding to the pot. An extension would help more families, they argued, while the pandemic threat still disrupts many workers. The statewide unemployment rate in February was 5.4%, above pre-pandemic levels.

“There’s still a lot of need,” said Francisco Duenas of Housing Now!, a nonprofit coalition of tenant advocates.

San Jose-based property manager Jeff Zell said the rental assistance program has been slow and cumbersome, but he’s been able to secure about $2 million in back rent for landlords. Zell, who manages about 2,100 units, said landlords are anxious to break ties with tenants who haven’t paid full rent for months.

Click here to read the full article at the Mercury News

Cities Try To Thwart State’s Push For Housing

Those of a certain age might remember Mad magazine, a comic book that lampooned almost everything for more than six decades.

One of Mad’s more enduring and popular strips was “Spy vs. Spy,” created by Cuban expatriate artist Antonio Prohías. Wordlessly, two figures, one dressed in black and the other in white, would try constantly to outwit each other but neither could ever prevail.

The political and legal war over housing, pitting the state of California against its 400 cities, is reminiscent of the perpetual duel between those two comic strip warriors.

The state enacts laws and regulations aimed at compelling cities to accept more affordable housing construction, particularly to serve low- and moderate-income families, and cities counter with local laws and regulations to evade their housing quotas.

Although the state might seem to have the upper hand as it seeks to close its yawning gap between supply and demand, one would have to say that the cities have been remarkably successful in evading their civic and legal responsibilities because construction falls way short of the state’s goals.

In theory, California should be building 185,000 units a year to keep up with current demand and chip away at the backlog, but it scarcely produces half of that number.

City officials, responding to their constituents’ aversion to high-density housing, employ all sorts of tactics to discourage development, such as imposing specific requirements that make projects economically infeasible or zoning undesirable land for housing.

As new anti-housing tactics are introduced, the state adjusts laws and regulations to thwart them, but the cities just find new ways to preserve the status quo.

One of the state’s newest pro-housing approaches, embodied in legislation enacted last year and going into effect last month, allows up to four units of housing to be built on land zoned for single-family homes. City officials denounced Senate Bill 9 as it was winding through the Capitol, arguing that it usurped their traditional land use authority and would change the character of their neighborhoods.

However, now that SB 9 is law, cities are trying to figure out how to blunt, or even cancel, its impact in true Spy vs. Spy fashion.

Just before the law took effect, for example, Pasadena enacted an “emergency ordinance” that imposes tight, and likely unworkable, rules on what can be built.

They include an 800-square-foot limit on new units, a one-story height limitation, a requirement for one parking spot for each new unit, landscaping standards and a ban on short-term rentals. Collectively, they could make development authorized under SB 9 economically prohibitive.

Click here to read the full article at CALMatters

Poll: 24% of Renters ‘Seriously Consider’ Leaving California

Few economic gaps in California are wider than the monetary gulf between renters and homeowners.

I just unearthed another example: A poll gauging the impact of the state’s challenging job market found 24% of California renters would “seriously consider” leaving for elsewhere in the U.S. vs. just 19% of homeowners.

The Public Policy Institute of California’s survey of 2,292 California adults conducted in late October offers vivid illustrations of how hard life can be as a Golden State renter, especially compared with homeowners. Not only are tenants typically poorer than owners, but their hopes of getting ahead are also diminished.

That’s not a good financial formula in a state where a typical apartment runs $1,967 a month — the second-highest rent in the nation, according to Apartment List. California renters pay an average 32% of their income toward rent — a monetary burden topped by only three other states, Census stats show.

The poll details how the usually tenuous finances of renters have been further muddled by the pandemic era’s business limitations and economic twists. California remains 900,000 jobs short of pre-pandemic employment levels with many of these lost positions coming from lower-paying industries that typically employ tenants.

Such workplace difficulties translate to 24% of renters having someone in their household losing a job in the past year vs. 16% of homeowners. And 17% of renters worry almost daily or more about future job losses vs. 12% of owners.

Now, most renters aren’t enjoying dream jobs with just 35% surveyed saying they are very satisfied with work vs. 38% of owners. One annoyance: Unstable hours are a pain for 21% of renters vs. 17% of owners.

Plus, a shortage of good-paying jobs further clouds the picture with 26% of renters saying it’s a “big problem” vs. 20% of owners. And there’s not much hope for career advancement — 42% of renters’ current workplace offers no growth opportunities vs. 37% of owners.

Cashed out

Employment impediments translate to money problems, with 22% of renters reporting worsening personal finances vs. a year ago vs. 15% owners.

No surprise, the cost of housing is a major headache with 39% of renters worrying almost every day or more vs. 16% of owners.

That’s likely because 24% of renters admit their households had difficulty paying rent vs. 10% of owners who had mortgage troubles. That’s in line with 26% of renters with serious worries about bills vs. 14% of owners.

Consider other renter-vs.-owner financial complications of the past year.

Medical? 23% of renting households put off getting healthcare help because of finances vs. 4% of owners. Food stamps? 26% of renting households got them vs. 9% of owners. Unemployment benefits? 33% of renters got jobless aid vs. 23% of owners.

Click here to read the entire article at OC Register

Three Major Hurdles to Fixing California’s Housing Crisis

Earlier this summer, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a $214.8 billion state budget that included $2 billion in new spending to address California’s housing and homelessness crisis. While Governor Newsom and the state legislature should be applauded for their efforts, we must also acknowledge that California cannot spend its way out of the housing affordability crisis that has engulfed the state.

There are no quick fixes when it comes to alleviating the state’s housing woes. California’s housing crisis is the result of decades of legislative and regulatory actions at both the state and local levels which have constrained, and in many instances outright stopped new home construction. If measurable progress on housing affordability is to occur, there are several key legal hurdles which must be overcome.

First and foremost, there needs to be a serious effort by Governor Newsom and the state legislature to mend – not end – the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Signed into law in 1970, CEQA was created to ensure that certain environmental protections were in place with new development projects, such as housing. Despite its original intent, CEQA has evolved from a tool into a trap, ensnaring practically all new housing, regardless of how locally necessary or environmentally friendly.  

From senior retirement communities to homeless shelters, hundreds of CEQA lawsuits have crushed sorely needed new housing proposals. CEQA abuse has become so widespread that based on a study by the law firm Holland & Knight, between 2012 – 2015, close to 14,000 housing units in the Southern California region (minus San Diego) were targeted by CEQA lawsuits. 

Along with the need to reform CEQA, the state must also make significant changes to prevailing wage requirements for new home construction. Prevailing wage is essentially the average hourly pay for construction work within a specific geographic region, and it applies to a wide variety of trades including carpenters, electricians, and plumbers. 

Under state law, home builders are required to pay prevailing wage on most low-income housing developments receiving public financing, thus leading to a substantial increase in costs. A report from the California Homebuilding Foundation found that prevailing wage requirements can mean as much as a 37 percent increase in construction costs, which equates to about $84,000 for a typical new home. 

To avoid adding additional hurdles to housing growth, it’s imperative that any new prevailing wage requirement fully recognizes, with metrics, the economic realities of each geographic region throughout the state.

Finally, there needs to be an increased opposition against overly restrictive local land-use laws often adopted as a result of pressure by residents intent on stopping new housing. According to the California Building Industry Association, approximately two-thirds of cities and counties in the state’s coastal metropolitan areas have adopted growth control laws which severely limit new housing opportunities. 

In those cases where new housing developments are approved, residents will often seek to curtail new home construction by placing “slow growth” or “no growth” measures on the ballot. Cities including Costa Mesa, Thousand Oaks, and Redondo Beach are among several Southern California municipalities that have passed voter-approved initiatives which effectively limit new housing.

It’s because of these types of legal impediments that the Building Industry Association of Southern California formed the nonprofit Building Industry Legal Defense Foundation, which has worked tirelessly to protect the home building industry from laws and regulations aimed at preventing new housing.

There is only one way out of California’s housing crisis, and that’s to ensure that home builders can do business in a legislative and regulatory environment where actual construction can take place. 

Jeff Montejano serves as CEO of the Building Industry Association of Southern California. Headquartered in Irvine, the Building Industry Association of Southern California is a leading advocate for thousands of building industry leaders who are committed to a better future for California by building communities, creating jobs and ensuring housing opportunities for everyone.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

San Bruno pressured by state to approve housing project

The May decision of state Senate Appropriations Chairman Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, to kill a sweeping bill making it far easier for developers to build four- or five-story condominium and rental projects near mass transit led many disappointed pundits to complain that the Legislature still hadn’t done enough to spur housing construction. Senate Bill 50, by Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, was seen as crucial to getting local communities to meet housing needs.

But officials and residents of the San Francisco suburb of San Bruno don’t want to hear that the state hasn’t done enough to pressure local governments. Thanks to a 2017 housing law – also crafted by Wiener – and another bill recently signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, the city of 43,000 residents could eventually face fines of as much as $600,000 a month for failing to meet housing mandates, according to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle.

At issue is the San Bruno City Council’s July 10 decision to reject a 425-unit housing project proposed by the Signature Development Group. Zachary Olmstead, a deputy director at the state Department of Housing and Community Development, warned city officials in a letter last week that under the 2017 law, they were legally compelled to approve the project since it met all planning and zoning requirements without imperiling public safety or health. Olmstead noted that state law compels San Bruno to approve construction of 1,155 new housing units by 2023, but so far it had approved just 118 units – with none for low-income families.

Gov. Newsom sees lawsuits as way to fight local NIMBYs

The formal notice from the state clears the way for the Newsom administration to eventually sue San Bruno if it doesn’t reverse its decision on the project or otherwise approve new housing. The governor already made it clear he considers such lawsuits as a powerful tool to force housing construction, suing Huntington Beach in January because the Orange County city had made little progress toward the requirement that it add 533 low-income housing units by the end of 2021.

Huntington Beach officials, who believe that their state constitutional protections as a charter city are being violated, are suing the state over its housing edict.

San Bruno officials have reacted with much less defiance. That may be partly because as a general law city, San Bruno can’t claim constitutional cover. It’s also because there is far more support for the 425-unit project in San Bruno than there is for low-income housing in Huntington Beach.

According to the Chronicle, the Signature Development Group worked to firm up support for its project by accepting city officials’ request that its plan add 64 more low-income units and include a grocery store, among other concessions. But while four of the five council members backed the project, two of those members recused themselves because of perceived conflicts of interests, since they live within 1,000 feet of the proposed project site. That meant there weren’t the necessary three votes for approval.

Unlike Huntington Beach, San Bruno is conciliatory

Even before the state’s warning arrived, San Bruno City Manager Jovan Grogan posted a statement on the city’s website about the controversy late last month that acknowledged the City Council’s decision might not stand. 

Grogan’s conciliatory remarks presented a sharp contrast with Huntington Beach officials’ reaction to the state’s pressure. There, City Attorney Michael Gates blasted Newsom and suggested that Huntington Beach’s history as a Republican stronghold was why it was singled out first instead of the 50-plus other cities in California that also failed to meet state housing mandates.

Meanwhile, there were reports this week that the San Bruno City Council would meet soon to review its limited options. An opinion from the city’s legal advisers saying the two council members who recused themselves from conflicts could vote because of the unusual circumstances could be a tidy way out of the problem.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

High Fees for Developers Ratchet Up California Home Prices

A long-awaited study detailing how much cities and counties charge developers to build housing in California found that such costs are often hidden, vary widely across the state and have slowed growth.

The report, released this week by the state Department of Housing and Community Development, comes as Gov. Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers continue to search for ways to lower construction costs to help remedy a shortage of available homes. The study recommends that legislators push cities and counties to make public their fees, set standards for services so that costs will be more predictable and take into account how they affect housing production.

“While fees offer a flexible way to finance necessary infrastructure, overly burdensome fee programs can limit growth by impeding or disincentivizing new residential development, facilitate exclusion and increase housing costs across the state,” said the report by researchers at UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation. …

Click here to read the full article from the Los Angeles Times

California housing market officially now ‘weak.’

The once red-hot California housing sales market is officially now “weak,” state analysts say, but the year-long flattening does not necessarily suggest the state is headed toward an economic downturn.

In a brief report issued Monday, the state Legislative Analyst’s Office weighed in on the latest California home sales trends, noting that homes sales statewide in June were down from the same month last year, and notably lower than historic norms.

“Home sales were on a clear downward trend during the second half of 2018 and the beginning of 2019,” analysts wrote. “Sales seem to have stabilized in recent months and are no longer declining from month to month. …

Click here to read the full article from the Sacramento Bee

Looking Forward on Affordable Housing

With the state budget mostly concluded, now is a good time to look at future reforms to bring Californians more housing, affordable or otherwise.

It’s called a housing crisis, yet you can buy a 282-square-foot kit home on Amazon.com for $18,800, instructions included. If you need something bigger, there’s a 1,336 square foot kit home for $64,650.

So perhaps it should be called a property crisis. While building a house can be cheap, in California the property under it is the expensive component, requiring builders to meet all sorts of state and local regulations. State and local governments refuse to make it easier to erect any kind of housing.

Just Google “land entitlements” for a rude awakening on how complex property regulations are. This traditional approach needs a review.

The way not to do that is Assembly Bill 72 from 2017, by Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles. It ran roughshod over local governments’ control with their own housing regulations.

AB 72 is the weapon Gov. Gavin Newsom used in January in his unjust attack on Huntington Beach, which is in my 37th Senate District. Surf City allegedly failed to meet its affordable-housing goals mandated by state calculations for zoning to accommodate various income levels. Ironically, Huntington Beach is one of the major housing-approving cities in Orange County.

Gov. Newsom justified the lawsuit with a statement that “due to the rising house prices, it would prove to be a threat to the economy as well as deepen inequality.”

At the time, I called that “strong-arm tactics.”

Piling on, the state budget enacted last month included fines to cities of up to $600,000 a month for supposedly violating state housing goals. Cities don’t pay fines, citizens do. So, that’s effectively a tax increase.

Additionally, there is a problem with what is called the Not-In-My-Back-Yard (NIMBY) movement. 

As Carson Bruno of the Pepperdine School of Public Policy described it, “Considering that the housing affordability problem is less a local issue and more a regional problem, until municipalities collectively begin opposing the movement, actual progress on solving the affordability crisis will continue to be delayed and blocked.”

Next, there are the state’s unreformed environmental laws.

A 2015 report by the Legislative Analyst found California housing prices were only 30 percent higher than the national average in 1970. Considering the mild climate and lower heating and cooling costs, that was a tolerable divergence. Soon after, housing prices began to soar to 80 percent above the national average in 1980. By 2015, prices were 250 percent higher!

The report found a major cause of the higher prices was the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), enacted in 1970. CEQA reports often caused cities and counties to deny “proposals to develop housing or approving fewer housing units than the developer proposed,” according to the LAO report. “CEQA’s complicated procedural requirements give development opponents significant opportunities to continue challenging housing projects after local governments have approved them.”

In May this year, the Senate postponed to next year consideration on Senate Bill 50, by Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco. A crucial part of the bill would “establish a streamlined ministerial approval process for neighborhood multifamily projects, thereby exempting these projects from the CEQA approval process.”

The reasoning is, by encouraging more housing closer to workplaces, people would drive fewer miles, reducing vehicles’ use of carbon fuels and the production of greenhouse gases. Thus, California would meet CEQA’s goal of improving the environment. I’m hopeful the Legislature will pass this component of SB 50 when it returns in 2020.

Another positive development I voted for is Assembly Bill 101, by the Committee on the Budget. Among other things, it would require the Department of Housing and Community Development to come up with a “methodology that promotes and streamlines housing development and substantially addresses California’s housing shortage.” The bill was approved without opposition in both houses and now is with the governor.

Finally, instead of punishing cities and counties with fines for allegedly not following state housing laws, how about rewarding them with more state aid to deal with the housing and homelessness crises? A carrot is a better incentive than a stick.

Rather than stigmatizing cities like Huntington Beach, an incentive approach would encourage all cities to work with the state to provide more housing.

John M.W. Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, represents the 37th District in the California Senate.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily