Welcome to the September Construction/Real Estate issue of NorthBay biz magazine. In addition to all the stories this month, there’s a special report on health. Please enjoy all the features and columns in the area’s only locally owned, formerly glossy business publication. You can rely on NorthBay biz as your local source for business news and information, because, “Helping grow your business isn’t just something we do…It’s all we do!”
I need some help. I find myself conflicted about an important local issue on which I normally have clear-cut beliefs, supported by evidence, experience and a firm and logical argument. As anyone who regularly reads this column knows, I’m rarely challenged to pick which side of an issue to support. However, when it comes to Budget Trailer Bill 707, I think maybe the cure is worse than the disease.
Did you know that from 2011 through 2014, more building permits were issued in Houston, Texas than in the entire state of California? It’s a stat that’s hard to believe, but probably helps you believe this next one. The median selling price of a single-family home in Houston is $217,000; in California, it’s $511,000. This certainly supports the theory that, when demand outpaces supply, prices rise. By some estimates, California is more than 1 million housing units behind housing demands.
A solid consensus supports the long-standing need to resolve this housing crisis, but when the rubber hits the road, all we get is political blather acknowledging the problem and then promises that this time—for sure—something will be done. Unfortunately, we’ve been hearing this same spiel from all levels of state government for decades. Well, maybe, this time, something might actually happen.
Governor Brown and Sacramento legislators are “backrooming” a deal to streamline approval of residential housing projects across the state by removing local voices from the process. With this deal, any development that meets local zoning laws can be built without local review. NIMBYs or any other concerned residents who might object to increased traffic, infrastructure or other neighborhood concerns would be silenced as long as 20 percent of the housing units are designated “affordable.” For housing projects within 0.5 mile of major transit stops, this streamlined approval would require only 10 percent affordable housing in the mix.
Here’s the logic: California is one of only a few states that doesn’t have “by right” housing protocols. ”By right” means as long as development plans comply with land use and zoning laws, housing permits need only administrative review—not “political review” (approval by planning/zoning/environmental commissions and city councils). Under our current system, it’s a much longer, more costly and uncertain process. Budget Trailer Bill 707 would create “by rights” protocols for the first time.
This hugely significant change of statewide housing policy is on the cusp of being fast-tracked through the legislature. The neat trick is that, since it’s already been passed, it avoids committee hearings, debate, amendments and public notice. After the final backroom deal is agreed upon, the bill is brought back to the floor for a final up or down vote (democracy in action).
I fully believe decisions regarding choices impacting day-to-day living should be made locally, not mandated from on high by government bureaucracies that are removed from local custom and vibe. Consequently, to have an issue of this magnitude mandated by the pols in Sacramento goes completely against my grain.
However (and here comes the but) local authorities, while acknowledging the housing dilemma and promising to do something about it, time and time and time again have done nothing. Just talk and more talk resulting in no increase in residential housing units of any consequence ever being built.
California is and has been facing an economically debilitating housing shortage for much too long, negatively impacting families and businesses across the state. Now a potential solution to unleash the power of the market might be in the offing, and I’m forced to hold my nose because of the stench of how this scheme/solution was hatched.
So, what do you think? Please write a letter, send an email or submit a Guest Column or a Readers Speak Out article for publication in the magazine sharing your thoughts on what the state is proposing and what it means to us here locally in the North Bay.
That’s it for now. Please enjoy this month’s issue of NorthBay biz.
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