Early Legislative Roundup: A New Session Begins
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This week saw the beginning of a new California legislative session, and lawmakers have already introduced almost 140 new bills. Many are “spot bills,” meaning they are meant to hold a spot in line, but details have not yet been published. Even so, they provide a glimpse into what legislators are thinking about, and what issues they plan to work on in the next session.
But it’s still very early. Legislators have until February 22 to introduce bills for the first year of this new two-year session. So expect a lot more to come, especially right at the deadline. Meanwhile, here is a quick rundown of housing and transportation bills so far:
Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) is back with another stab at encouraging transit oriented housing—or perhaps more accurately preventing cities from discouraging it. S.B. 50, a rewrite of last year’s S.B. 827—has been getting a lot of attention. This time around, the bill incorporates some language to prevent displacement, but its aim remains to encourage denser development where transit service is frequent.
Senators Mike McGuire (D-North Coast) and Jim Beall (D-Campbell) have a somewhat similar bill, S.B. 4, which also seeks to encourage denser housing near transit “in a manner that ensures that every jurisdiction contributes its fair share to a housing solution, while acknowledging relevant differences among communities.” Details on how that would work are sparse, and it’s not clear whether the Senators will ultimately be able to agree on a policy framework and combine the two approaches.
Senator Beall breaks other housing-incentive ideas into a couple of bills: his S.B. 5 would create a “Local-State Sustainable Investment Incentive Program” to build “workforce and affordable housing, certain transit oriented development, and projects promoting strong neighborhoods.” S.B. 6 seeks to encourage housing production by streamlining approval processes, identifying sites for housing construction, and penalizing local planning that restricts housing.
Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) is working on “Keep Californians Housed,” a bill that would create a guide to landlord-tenant laws throughout California, a rental assistance program, and a fund to prevent homelessness and provide legal aid to renters. Her bill, S.B. 18, lacks more detail than that as of now, but note that a study from Philadelphia found that spending money on legal aid for tenants could ultimately save fifteen times as much in public services.
Senator Wiener promulgates the basic tenet that every person in the state has a right to shelter with S.B. 48, the “Right to Shelter” bill. In the Assembly, a similar bill from Assemblymember Autumn Burke (D-Inglewood), A.B. 22, would declare that “every child has the right to safe and clean shelter and that no child should be without safe and clean shelter by 2025.”
Also in the Assembly, new member Luz Rivas (D-Arleta) introduced A.B. 14, which would create a Multifamily Housing Program specifically to fund housing for homeless youths and homeless families. Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) has a spot bill, A.B. 36, aimed at stabilizing rental prices in California and increasing the availability of affordable rental housing.
Accessory Dwelling Units—ADUs or “granny flats”–are again the subject of legislation aimed at making the easier to build, mostly by preventing restrictions. Senator Bob Wieckoski (D-Fremont) watched one of his bills last year die, and is trying again with A.B. 13, which would reduce impact fees and other barriers to building ADUs. Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) has A.B. 68, which would ease restrictions and streamline the approval process for these housing units.
Ting also has a bill, A.B. 69, that would require new statewide building standards for apartment houses and other types of housing units.
Now that Jerry Brown is retiring as governor, there will be conversations about reviving redevelopment, which he abolished in 2012. Bills in both the Senate—S.B. 15, from newly sworn-in Senator Anthony Portantino (D-Glendale), and A.B. 11, from Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco) and a slew of coauthors, ought to jump start the conversation. Redevelopment, while it had many problems, raised much-needed money for housing, and it was a shock when Brown dissolved it. Expect a lot of argument about how best to revive the idea.
Two bills aim to put the final nail in the coffin of the idea of extending the 710 freeway northward. A.B. 29, coauthored by Assemblymembers Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), Laura Friedman (D-Burbank), Cristina Garcia (D-Downey), would remove the portion of 710 north of Route 10 from the California freeway system entirely. And S.B. 7, from Senator Portantino , would prohibit Caltrans from “implementing a freeway tunnel or surface freeway or expressway for Route 710 between Route 10 and Route 210.”
Assemblymember Ting is trying for a second time with a bill, A.B. 40, that calls for all new cars sold in California to be zero-emission by 2040. Lots needs to be worked out for this to happen, including building infrastructure and building a reliable supply of clean electricity. But this is about new cars; even if this passes there would still be a lot of gas-powered vehicles on the road for years to come.
Finally, but far from least, Senator Ben Allen (D-Redondo Beach) has introduced a radical idea with S.B. 43. His bill would base some sales and use taxes not on the price of products, but on their carbon intensity. Some, especially economists and financial folks, will completely freak out at this crazy notion, but it is a brilliant idea that absolutely should be considered. It would place a monetary value on the environment, rather than on money, and so is probably just too radical an idea for most, even though it would be in line with community values. The discussions on this bill ought to be fun.