This editorial board routinely decries the failure of state lawmakers to address some of the biggest issues that confront California, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the state’s continuing commitment to loosen the encrusted housing-construction rules that create years-long delays to build important new projects.
The latest two governors have signed dozens of housing-related bills — the most significant of which reduce housing regulations and zoning requirements. One of the earliest ones is 2017’s Senate Bill 35 by Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco. Although we generally disagree with his politics, we can’t deny that Wiener has been a force of nature on the housing front.
SB 35 created a template for housing reform. It gives developers have a right to build their properties without going through the long and subjective local approval process provided the projects meet some basic standards.
For instance, the streamlined projects must be multi-family projects located on an urban infill site and conform to general zoning and design standards. The projects also must contain certain levels of affordability and conform to a long list of other standards. Developers also were required to pay their workers union-level wages.
Obviously, we prefer a wider loosening of standards, but negotiating any serious reform that might actually pass in the state Capitol means confronting the vested interests that hold sway. SB 35 passes our test of offering far more good than bad, even if we have to hold our collective noses at the bad.
Prominent research already has detailed the specific ways that SB 35 has helped cities build affordable-housing and homeless-related projects. However, SB 35 will sunset in 2026 and Wiener has introduced a new bill, Senate Bill 423, to make its provisions permanent.
The legislative sausage-making process never is pleasant, but it’s dismaying to see major unions throw a wrench in that process to achieve self-interested provisions. The bill would eliminate certain union-only hiring regulations because, as CalMatters explained, “there aren’t enough unionized construction workers to build all the new housing California requires.”
Two major unions have admirably backed the bill even though some of the more politically powerful construction unions oppose it, the article adds. Former Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez — author of disastrous Assembly Bill 5, which largely banned independent contracting — attacked the proposed change in her usual class-warfare manner.
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Unfortunately, local governments also opposed the law’s extension. Transparently slow-growth efforts by cities such as Huntington Beach to stymie housing construction, however, only reinforce the need for state regulatory pre-emptions.
Regarding union opposition, construction trades already enjoy many government-granted privileges. Trade unions tout the benefits that they offer builders in terms of training and apprenticeship programs. So union workers will naturally grab the lion’s share of new construction jobs, but they want to use the government to grab it all.
“We say, represent and raise all workers up,” Northern California Carpenters Regional Council executive secretary Jay Bradshaw told CalMatters. “It’s an organizing opportunity and we’ll produce housing at all income levels.” We wholeheartedly agree.
Housing streamlining rules such as SB 423 will help the state meet its desperate housing needs – and help all workers in the process. They help cities, too.
It would be a shame if narrow interests derail one of the rare areas where the state has the right idea.