This is an open letter to L.A. City Councilman Joe Buscaino from Richard Scandaliato, SSCA President dated Thursday, August 13, 2020:
I sincerely hope all is well with your respective families.
I never realized how busy a person can be following retirement, but now I know.
I’ve had several calls regarding the attached articles.
Many of the Councilman’s constituents have been asking the following:
- The Councilman’s position
- Councilman What is the impact on San Pedro
- What is the impact on South Shores
- Should this be of immediate concern
- What if anything can the citizenry due to affect these “bills”
- Etc., etc., etc.,
Anything that I can share with our residents, would be most appreciated and helpful.
Nine-bill housing package would trample local control
By Tom Elias, Columnist
The silver lining provided by some past pandemics has been that they opened minds, awakening entire nations and continents to what was wrong with the way things previously were. So it was, for example, with the bubonic plague of the 1300s, also known as the “black death,” which produced labor shortages that started the demise of the feudal system, turning serfs into free people if they could reach the walled cities of the time.
But there is little evidence that California’s leading lawmakers have seen the many changes the coronavirus pandemic has wrought in California. No, even though COVID- 19 has killed well over 8,400 Californians, current legislative leaders still pursue their old, pre-pandemic goals as if nothing were different.
That’s especially true in housing, where seismic change is about to occur as businesses increasingly abandon office towers, creating vast new vacant spaces that will inevitably become housing units. This will create the dense housing sought for years by the likes of Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener and fellow Democratic Sen. Toni Atkins of San Diego, the state Senate’s powerful president pro team. New and current reality, which sees office leasing around California at its lowest levels since the Great Recession, with more and more companies telling workers to operate from home, has not dented these folks’ thinking. They persist in fighting the last war, always a losing proposition for military leaders and often equally disastrous for politicians The best example of their thinking is a nine-bill package mostly sponsored by Wiener and Atkins, joined by other knee-jerk liberals like Berkeley’s Sen. Nancy Skinner and Assembly members Buffy Wicks of Oakland, Richard Bloom of Santa Monica, Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego and David Chiu of San Francisco.
As the Legislature sort-of returns from its second virus-induced recess of the year — a period when lawmakers ceded virtually all state authority to Gov. Gavin Newsom — the nine-bill housing package will start moving quickly through committees. It has backing from developers and labor unions, both major financial backers of many Democratic lawmakers.
Among other things, this package would effectively end single-family zoning in California, a longtime Wiener goal. It does this by allowing four market- priced homes on all lots that now have just one, with neither affordable units nor new parking spaces required. This alone could lead to wide disruption of residential neighborhoods if many homeowners take the wads of cash developers would soon proffer.
Another bill allows city councils to overturn laws passed by local voters that protect open space on shorelines or other green areas. The package also allows cities to rezone any parcel they like to allow 10-unit apartment buildings, in spite of any prior restrictions. It decreases the amount of affordable housing developers must include in a project to get it expanded beyond current local limits, giving developers a 50 percent “density bonus” if they build more affordable units than now required.
And it allows tall apartment and condominium buildings wherever neighborhood businesses now exist. So much for city- or county-imposed height limits.
This package aims to encourage more and more Californians to move into high-rise buildings and abandon their cars for public transit. It comes just when, rather than flocking to mass transit and ride-sharing services, most urban Californians are opting to drive private cars. Fears of contagion on public transit of all kinds stoke this trend, which sees ridership on trains and buses greatly reduced from last year.
None of this is needed. As more and more office space becomes vacant, there’s ever less call for new construction. What’s more, when conversion of office towers to residential use heats up, there will be more new housing than required to fill the state’s needs, estimated at about 3 million new units by 2025.
That timetable, of course, can be met easily by conversions, but not by new construction, which will inevitably be held up by lawsuits and environmental issues.
It adds up to a picture of blinkered, single-minded legislators pursuing old goals with little relevance in the post-pandemic world to come. That’s why the current housing package deserves to disappear, just like Wiener’s past failed efforts to rid California of single-family homes.
Email Thomas Elias at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Should the federal government control everything?
By Susan Shelley
That’s the question that’s raised by the controversy over the Trump administration’s repeal of the Obama administration’s 2015 regulation known as Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development makes grants of federal funds to cities, counties, states and public housing authorities. The AFFH rule required HUD grant recipients to fill out a 92-question assessment of various conditions in their jurisdiction. HUD wanted to know about access to public transit, educational quality, and local job market information. So grant recipients had to collect data and report it to the federal government.
If they didn’t, they risked being declared “out of compliance” with the Fair Housing Act. This was a means of giving the federal bureaucrats at HUD significant influence, if not outright control, of local housing decisions.
What the Trump administration has done is repeal the AFFH rule and replace it with a different standard. As long as grant recipients are taking action that is “rationally related to promoting fair housing,” they’re in compliance. “Fair Housing” is defined as “affordable, safe, decent, free of unlawful discrimination, and accessible under civil rights laws.”
The new rule is titled, “Preserving Community and Neighborhood Choice.”
People who believe the federal government should step in and override local zoning and planning decisions are opposed to this change. Some think it’s the government’s proper role to force changes in local housing policies in order to remedy the effect of discrimination in housing decades ago.
That’s the “Affirmatively” part of AFFH. Instead of simply prohibiting discrimination, the Obama administration policy called for using federal funds as leverage to encourage construction of “affordable” housing in neighborhoods where local rules prohibit high-density, multi-family development. The premise is that it’s racist to have single-family homes on large lots protected by local zoning from having apartment buildings constructed in the same area.
However, there are many reasons for Americans of any skin color or ethnic background to want to live in a single-family neighborhood, without high-density, low-income housing nearby. If an individual buys a home protected by single-family zoning, should the federal government have the power to force changes to that zoning?
In California, the argument is ongoing over whether the state government should have the power to force changes to local zoning. The state has already enacted laws that prevent local governments from banning the construction of up to two auxiliary dwelling units on a single-family lot. Cities are not even allowed to require adequate parking when two apartments replace a backyard and a garage.
State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, has tried and failed several times to require cities to allow the construction of apartment buildings on single- family lots in areas near jobs and transit. Most recently, Senate Bill 50 went down to defeat on the Senate floor in a bipartisan vote. However, the effort to chip away at single-family zoning continues. State lawmakers are currently considering a package of legislation that would enable high-density housing in low-density neighborhoods.
“SB50 is hiding in nine bad bills,” says a group called Livable California. Its website lists Senate Bill 1120, SB902, SB1085, SB995, Assembly Bill 725, AB1279, AB2345, AB3040, and AB3107. You can look up these bills and read the analysis of each at the Legislature’s website, leginfo.legislature. ca.gov. If you’d like to call your state representatives, go online to findyourrep.legislature. ca.gov to find their names and contact information.
The fact is that California has a housing shortage because the state has pursued a policy of discouraging new housing developments that might increase “vehicle miles traveled.” This relic of the pre-CO-VID era was based on the premise that commuting to work is bad for the climate, and therefore California must set a good example for the world. The policy never actually affected the climate. The whole state of California produces only 1 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and that was before the stay-at-home orders emptied the roads.
Today, many more people can work remotely and live anywhere. Density is not the future. State laws that try to force it are outdated and should be repealed immediately. We certainly don’t need any more of them.
Susan Shelley is an editorial writer and columnist for the Southern California News Group. Susan@SusanShelley.com. Twitter: @Susan_Shelley
Sacramento’s latest move to undo single-family homes
By Christopher LeGras
With the media and public unavoidably focused on CO-VID 19 and Black Lives Matter protests, the California Legislature has quietly fast-tracked legislation that if passed will fundamentally transform residential life in the Golden State. Thanks to the pandemic, lawmakers have eliminated numerous committee hearings and minimized public input on a package of bills that would largely end local zoning and housing authority. Few if any of the millions of middle- and working-class Californians whose neighborhoods will be affected know what’s coming.
The bills reflect state lawmakers’ frustration with the pace of new housing construction in California, which faces a long-term shortage. But local officials worry the legislation would deprive cities of self-determination with one-size fits-all policies. Decisions affecting entire communities would be made by distant bureaucrats with little or no connection to the places impacted. One bill mandates what local agencies can and cannot require in certain developments; another exempts larger developments from environmental review. One of the more disconcerting bills targets single-family neighborhoods for upzoning. Your next-door neighbor’s house could be demolished and replaced by as many as 10 units.
Indeed, the bills also reflect many Democrats’ desire to end single-family housing once and for all. One of the state senators leading the fight has called houses immoral and racist, a sentiment that increasingly pervades housing policy. Many legislators view transit-oriented densification as a panacea for the nation’s housing needs and a superior alternative to suburban living. While the benefits and costs of density are far from settled, the concept drives this legislation.
Consequently, existing single- family and small multi-family neighborhoods will be prime targets for what many fear will be an unprecedented wave of real estate speculation. In particular, working class and communities of color are at risk.
Black neighborhoods such as Leimert Park, Latino neighborhoods such as Boyle Heights and diverse communities such as Alameda and South Oakland all could be supplanted by dense, high-end developments. That’s not to say wealthier suburbs will be spared — it’s just that places such as Marin County and Pacific Palisades tend to find ways to avoid housing mandates.
Written in dense legalese and bureaucratic jargon, the current bills vest state planners with extraordinary new powers, turning the Department of Housing and Community Development into a de facto central planning authority. What the bills’ authors tout as provisions deferring to local control are window dressing in a historic state takeover.
Previous legislative efforts at state-mandated densification provoked ferocious opposition, including from organizations and officials in cities such as San Francisco that normally are supportive of these kinds of bills. The last effort, SB50, went down to defeat three times. This time legislators are dividing and conquering, introducing nearly a dozen bills that each target different kinds of communities and local rules.
The bills collectively amount to a breathtaking giveaway to developers. Many contain environmental exemptions and virtually none require affordable housing, saving builders millions in compliance costs on top of the savings in skipping local review. Perhaps most distressingly, few of the bills contain meaningful affordable housing requirements — in fact, one bill actually reduces affordability requirements under the state’s density bonus laws. These realities have led many to wonder about the political influence of developers and their allies who have donated lavishly to state and local races. That concern is well-founded: In Los Angeles City Council members face federal corruption charges stemming from their role in approving more than $ 1 billion in developments. The Wild West is about to get wilder.
There’s a final, fatal problem with the legislation: CO-VID 19. The pandemic is transforming the way Americans live and work. No one can say what the “new normal” will be, how society will balance work, safety, recreation and transportation. Yet Sacramento is roaring ahead with bills drafted before anyone heard of the coronavirus. The wise course would be to pause and recalibrate, not double down on policies that were dubious even before the world changed. Alas, the generals continue preparing for the last war.
Christopher LeGras is an attorney and journalist in Los Angeles.