May 23, 2016 Rob Poole

Jerry Brown Wants “As-of-Right” Housing

Last week, Governor Jerry Brown announced introduction of potentially landmark legislation that would allow for “as-of-right” housing in California. This means that developments meeting certain conditions would not be subject to discretionary review by local decision-making bodies, or endless appeals by disgruntled local neighbors. If you feel as strongly about housing as we do, then you’re probably tingling with excitement. You may also be curious to learn more details and understand how this would apply to San Francisco. Here’s what we know so far:

What It Does
According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO), the measure would make housing that meets the following conditions “as-of-right”:

  • Conforms with existing general plan and zoning rules
  • Multifamily housing of greater than two units
  • Qualify as infill housing
  • Meets certain affordability requirements (20 percent on-site below-market-rate housing or 10 percent on-site if located within half-a-mile of a transit stop)
  • Not applicable to certain locations such as farmlands, wetlands, hazardous waste sites, etc.

The legislation gives local jurisdictions clear and strict timelines for opposing an as-of-right development, expedites design review, requires relocation assistance for displaced households and, yes, eliminates CEQA review.

San Francisco Case Studies
This proposal would no doubt have major impacts in San Francisco, where, over many years, a long list of code-compliant projects have been appealed for what we believe are unjustified reasons. For example:

  • Local neighbors appealed 50 permanently affordable low-income homes, half for transition age foster youth, at the Booker T. Washington Center because it was “too tall.” This delayed the project for several years and added about $10 million to the project’s budget.
  • The car-free, 12-unit development at 1050 Valencia, located a few blocks from a BART station, was repeatedly appealed then sued in court because because of its height and objections to its impact on “neighborhood character.”
  • Local residents appealed 88 Arkansas, which included 20 percent on-site affordable housing, because of objections to how the bedrooms were designed. 
  • Most recently, 1066 Market Street was appealed because the project’s low-income units were deemed too expensive for the Tenderloin’s existing residents.
"as-of-right" housing

1050 Valencia, between 21st and 22nd Streets

It has become increasingly evident that San Francisco does not have the tools to address the affordability crisis on its own. The State of California needs to step in and Governor Brown’s proposal would be a major step forward towards creating certainty that market-rate and affordable housing projects actually get built in a timely way.

Gov. Brown Has Little Interest in Subsidies
Since he abolished Redevelopment Agencies in 2011, Brown has shown little interest in creating new sources of funding to subsidize affordable housing. The fiscally conservative Governor wants to keep the state budget balanced, especially as he anticipates another economic recession, and doesn’t believe additional funding can stretch far enough to make a significant impact. He’s quoted in the LA Times:

“Hopefully, the supply is going to bring down the cost,” Brown said. “Otherwise, through subsidies and through restrictions, we’re just spending more and more tax dollars and getting very, very little.”

Removing Barriers to Housing Production
The LAO’s report, California’s High Housing Costs: Causes and Consequences, clearly explains that decades of underproduction are the chief culprit of the affordability and displacement crises. Removing barriers to building housing is a key solution to address this problem. Governor Brown’s proposal could be a game-changer that makes it significantly easier to build more housing of all levels of affordability.

The Governor’s proposed legislation will be heard by the Senate Budget Committee in Sacramento on Tuesday, May 24. The San Francisco Housing Action Coalition and its friends will be there to support the measure during public comment.

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Rob Poole

Rob is the former Development and Communications Manager at SFHAC.

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