I flew up to Sacramento on Sunday for meetings with the Senate Republican Caucus and dinner with the 2019-20 Senate members, a biennial tradition.
On Monday, the newly elected and re-elected Senators from the even-numbered districts were sworn in. After staff meetings, I flew home late last evening. During the moments before the ceremony, I was caught by the LA Times and provided the comment in the first piece below. It also gives you the flavor of the day and what to expect in the coming year.
I did agree to co-author a bill by Sen. Scott Wiener (D – San Francisco) on building affordable housing along transit lines. But, with the success of AB 448 earlier this year, I want to continue the effort to find the housing units needed to address Orange County’s homeless crisis. Urbanize LA provides the details in the second piece below. (Reviewing the legislative process over the 2017-2018 Legislative Session and beyond will be the subject of tomorrow’s UPDATE.)
Other activities have also been occurring outside the Capitol on their own. Carl DeMaio is pursuing another statewide ballot measure that would restructure the way California’s transportation money is allocated. It looks like an editorial writer for StreetsBlog California is not happy about it and decided to take snipes at both Carl and me in the third piece below.
The writer has worked in the public sector in the transportation sector and has an obvious bias. But, she has to overlook so many flaws, many of which I have provided over the time since I arrived at the Capitol in March of 2015.
I really wish I could be a promoter of California’s Department of Transportation, but like the High Speed Rail Authority and the DMV, Caltrans is just not achieving the management metrics you and I could be proud of.
California’s Legislature convenes as a record number of Democrats settle in to govern
A bumper crop of Democrats convened Monday in the California Legislature, the largest group in the state’s modern history, swept into office by an electoral flood that could create a significant change on big-ticket issues including healthcare and child poverty.
Sixty Democrats joined the Assembly, making up three-quarters of the lower house’s membership and the party’s largest caucus in the chamber since 1883. In the 40-member Senate, 29 lawmakers are Democrats, a high-water mark reached just once before in more than half a century.
Leaders of both houses urged their colleagues to move away from campaigning and toward governing, with a number of pressing issues to tackle in the two-year legislative session ahead.
“I challenge each of you to search within yourselves this session, to find the urgency we will need to match the tasks before us,” Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) said in opening remarks.
How the historically large contingent of Democrats will govern alongside Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, who takes office in January, is likely to depend on which issues they prioritize among the scores of bills formally introduced on Monday. Although some lawmakers represent decidedly liberal communities in California’s sprawling urban landscape, others won in districts that were represented by Republicans as recently as the summer — in some cases, that GOP dominance spanned decades.
For Republicans, whose total legislative representation in the new session could fit inside a couple of passenger vans, the path forward could be challenging.
“I’d like to say that I surfed the blue wave and I landed on the shore, and I’m here to continue my work,” Senate Minority Leader Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) said in remarks during the swearing-in session, drawing laughter from her colleagues.
Practically speaking, their small numbers will require each member to take on extra work to fill the GOP’s allotted spots on legislative committees. More broadly, however, Republican legislators must search for relevance in policy debates where their votes aren’t needed.
“I’m still going through the 12 steps of grief,” Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) quipped.
Republicans must also decide how to interpret the election results — either as the product of a nationalized midterm election under an unpopular GOP president, or as a deeper repudiation of the party’s brand and platform. One Republican, San Diego Assemblyman Brian Maienschein, took the oath of office without yet knowing whether he had retained his seat, his lead shrinking as votes continue to be counted.
Still, Monday’s ceremonial kickoff to the legislative session — after which lawmakers adjourned until Jan. 7 — was marked by camaraderie, not confrontation. New lawmakers’ family members mingled and hugged, posing for photos. Assemblyman Kevin Mullin (D-South San Francisco) brought his twin infants with him, wearing matching sweater vests; Sen. Benjamin Allen (D-Santa Monica) took the oath of office while holding a carrier with his newborn inside. Later, a number of lawmakers gathered with friends for private parties across downtown Sacramento.
It was also an emotional day given the hardships many Californians are facing. Both houses acknowledged a number of deadly events in recent months. Newsom, presiding over the Senate for the final time as lieutenant governor, led the chamber in a moment of silence for those killed in the Camp and Woolsey fires.
Emotional, too, was the call for action in setting the agenda for the year ahead. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) took aim at the oft-repeated maxim of California’s “exceptionalism,” telling lawmakers that poverty and the affordable housing crisis have tarnished the state’s reputation.
“We cannot make housing affordable for the masses when the 1% are earning hundreds and thousands of times” what the average worker makes, Rendon said to applause.
Two Democratic senators announced an early effort on that front, introducing a bill to restore affordable housing funding for local governments that was lost when the state abolished redevelopment agencies in 2011.
“We have an opportunity to establish a renewed partnership between the state and cities, with strict accountability measures, to ensure more affordable housing gets built,” state Sen. James Beall Jr. (D-San Jose) said in a written statement.
Others urged lawmakers to embrace the results of a far-reaching study released last month that called for $1.6 billion in additional spending to combat child poverty. A Fresno assemblyman, Democrat Joaquin Arambula, pledged to reintroduce a plan to extend Medi-Cal coverage to all California residents without legal immigration status. Both efforts would be expensive and could test the boundaries of a state budget that has ample cash reserves but has largely avoided the kinds of program expansions that would continue even in the presence of a recession and budget shortfalls.
“I think working people’s issues have to be what we address,” newly elected Sen. Maria Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles) said, adding later that the resounding win for Democrats was “a call for government to fill human needs — and human needs means shelter, a place to live; it means that from a job you can do everything that you aspire to do.”
Lawmakers also introduced bills to implement universal preschool and new mental health services in the state, and to extend the time to file workplace harassment claims. Another new proposal aims to bolster a spring ruling by the California Supreme Court that limited the power of companies to classify workers as independent contractors, ensuring a heated battle with the business industry.
And new gun-related laws were proposed a month after a mass shooting in Thousand Oaks, including a bill to tax the sale of semiautomatic firearms — the revenue would fund violence prevention programs in California. A second bill, vetoed in the prior session by Gov. Jerry Brown, would allow teachers, employers and co-workers to ask judges to remove guns from people they believe to be a danger to the public.
National politics were not completely absent during the opening events, though not as dominant a presence as it was in 2016 when Democrats were visibly shaken by the election of President Trump. Rendon chastised Trump during his speech Monday for the decision to send troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to immigration fears — what he said was an assignment “to do nothing but posture.”
“My worst fears have not yet materialized, but the federal reality has been quite bad enough,” Rendon said of Trump.
Members of the Asian Pacific Islander, Latino and Jewish legislative caucuses introduced a resolution that denounced a Trump administration proposal to restrict green cards for those likely to receive public assistance, calling it “classist” and “racist.” Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco), chairman of the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus, said it would force “immigrant families to make impossible choices.”
The newly elected members of the Legislature marked a few milestones just by winning office. Twenty-three women — more than one-quarter of the house — now serve in the Assembly, and all but two of them are Democrats. The Legislature, where brothers have served at the same time, now has its first sister act: Baldwin Park Democrats Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio and Sen. Susan Rubio. And with members now eligible to serve longer in a single house — a change brought about by a 2012 ballot measure — the Legislature is welcoming its smallest freshman class since after the 1988 election cycle.
Newsom, who will find himself sparring with many of the new members when he becomes governor, urged lawmakers to move quickly to the work at hand.
“Let us not forget why you are here. And that’s not to be something, but to do something,” he said.
Times staff writer Melanie Mason contributed to this report.
California State Senator
Introduces New Bill to Boost
Housing Construction Near
SB 50 would incentivize apartments in transit-rich
and job-rich areas.
Seven months after a prior attempt died in committee, California State Senator Scott Wiener has introduced new legislation which revives an effort to boost housing construction near transit lines across the state.
Senate Bill 50, dubbed the "More Housing, Opportunity, Mobility, Equity and Stability Act" – or "More HOMES" Act – is co-authored by State Senators Ben Hueso, Anna Bacallero, Nancy Skinner, and John Moorlach as well as Assemblymembers Autumn Burke, Buffy Wicks, Phil Ting, Ash Kalra, Evan Low, Kevin Riley, and Robert Rivas. Informed by the fate of its predecessor SB 827, which was criticized as a "one size fits all" approach to zoning, SB 50 is less heavy-handed, creating an "equitable communities incentive" that can supersede local restrictions on a project-by-project basis, much in the vein of the California’s existing density bonus law and Los Angeles’ Transit Oriented Communities program. The revived effort also takes more care to address the concerns of communities fearing displacement and gentrification, the initial lack of which contributed to SB 827’s early demise.
“We must take bold steps now to address our severe housing crisis and reduce our carbon footprint,” said Senator Scott Wiener in a release. “California’s housing shortage hurts our most vulnerable communities, working families, young people, our environment, and our economy. It also increases homelessness. For too long we have created sprawl by artificially limiting the number of homes that are built near transit and job centers. As a result of this restrictive zoning in urbanized areas, people are forced into crushing commutes, which undermines our climate goals, and more and more Californians are living in wildfire zones. As educational and economic opportunities become increasingly concentrated in and near urban areas, we must ensure all of our residents are able to access these opportunities. I am excited work with a diverse coalition to spur the development of more housing for all income levels while protecting vulnerable communities and ensuring we do more to address climate change.”
If signed into law, SB 50 would waive allow for the construction of apartments near "high-quality transit" – meaning within a half-mile of a rail station or a quarter-mile of a bus stop with frequent service – and also in job-rich areas – which are identified by the Department of Housing and Community Development and the Office of Planning and Research. Developments located within a half-mile radius of a transit stop, but outside of a quarter-mile radius, would be eligible for waivers from height limits less than 45 feet and FAR limits of 2.5-to-1. Developments located within a quarter-mile radius of a transit stop would be eligible for waivers for height requirements under 55 feet and FAR limits of 3.25-to-1. According to a release from the advocacy organization California YIMBY, this effectively amounts to four- and five-story buildings.
These projects would be achieved by requiring the local land use authority – be it a city or a county – to grant an equitable communities incentive to projects that meet the above criteria. This includes a waiver of maximum controls on density and automobile parking requirements greater than .5 spaces per residential unit, and up to three additional incentives or concessions from the existing density bonus law. Local jurisdictions would be free to modify their implementation of the program, as long as they remain consistent with the intentions of the SB 50
Unlike SB 827, which only saw the addition of tenant protections and affordable housing requirements after introduction, SB 50 is starting out with a similar list of provisions.
Sites occupied by tenants within seven years preceding the date of application – including housing that has been demolished or vacated prior to the application – would be ineligible for the incentives, as would properties in which tenants have been evicted through the Ellis Act within the past 15 years.
Additionally, any applicant seeking equitable community incentives for a development would be required to provide affordable housing at either the low-, very low-, or extremely low-income levels at the same levels set under the State density bonus law.
The inclusion of job-rich communities in the revised bill is a response to critics of SB 827, many of whom argued that most transit-rich areas are working-class neighborhoods vulnerable to displacement. Under SB 50, the equitable communities incentives would be available to properties in these job-rich areas – with access to high-quality amenities and schools – even without the presence of rail or high-frequency bus lines.
A more nebulous aspect of the proposed legislation is delayed implementation in sensitive communities, which are defined as those vulnerable to displacement pressure based on indicators such as the percentage of tenant households living at or under the regional poverty line. These communities would see a delayed implementation of SB 50, allowing for a neighborhood-level planning process to develop zoning rules and other policies to encourage multifamily housing development. However, it is unclear what form these rules or policies would take.
Also in response to proponents of local control, SB 50 would not alter any jurisdiction’s current community engagement and design review processes, nor would it change any labor or employment standards for new construction. Any existing ban on housing demolition – consistent with the state’s Housing Accountability Act – would remain in place, and local governments would retain the right to set height limits for new housing outside of areas with access to rail transit.
Likewise, any local requirements for on-site affordable housing that exceed those proposed in SB 50 would be honored.
Similarly, eligibility for any local programs to encourage housing construction near transit – such as the Transit Oriented Communities guidelines in Los Angeles – would make a project ineligible for the equitable communities incentives.
The new legislation comes as California finds itself with an estimated shortage of 3.5 million homes, and calls from incoming Governor Gavin Newsom to close that gap. Bill proponents note that the recent wildfires have only exacerbated the problem, and argue that the solution is to encourage more development in urban cores, rather than on the suburban fringer.
SB 50 is also billed as an opportunity to reduce the state’s carbon footprint by shortening commutes and encouraging transit use and active transportation by placing people in close proximity to major job centers. A recent report from the California Air Resources Board found that the state will fall short of its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2030 unless its residents dramatically reduce vehicle travel.
Prop 6 Proponents Introduce Anti-High Speed Rail Initiative
DeMaio also wants to shift all responsibility for state highways to local governments
Carl DeMaio just won’t go away quietly. After the trouncing of his Proposition 6, which would have repealed the recent increase in gas taxes and caused other mayhem with California’s transportation funding, DeMaio is back with another attempt to screw up the transportation system and end what little progress has been made.
His new initiative, just cleared by the California Secretary of the State to begin collecting signatures, would “remove responsibility and funding for state highway construction and maintenance from the state” and put it in the hands of local governments.
Oh, also: the initiative would kill the California High Speed Rail Project by terminating its funding.
It’s no secret that DeMaio has it out for Caltrans, and would love to take away the department’s funding, but this initiative is ridiculous. Sure, local governments would appreciate the boost in funding, but does any city want to take on the responsibility of maintaining the state highway system? Local agencies also absolutely do not have the capacity to take on the extra work–but DeMaio has the solution to that. The initiative would require that highway construction work be done “by private, non-governmental entities.”
Senator John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) has been putting forward these same ideas since he got into office several years ago. Caltrans is inefficient, and therefore its work should be done by private contractors, he says. High-speed rail is a boondoggle and ought to be killed, according to Moorlach. Luckily, his legislative attempts to gut Caltrans and high-speed rail never got anywhere.
Moorlach and DeMaio and their ilk don’t really care about efficiency or improving transportation or any of the things Californians actually care about. What they want is no-strings-attached money going to fatter, faster highways unimpeded by state concerns. They want to get rid of transit because “nobody rides it” and they want to ensure that the only way to get anywhere is by private vehicle, thus guaranteeing that the congestion they say they are worried about grows exponentially into the future.
Imagine what a patchwork the state highway system would become if all planning and maintenance work were the responsibility of local governments. Imagine the crush of future congestion if no one could choose to take transit anywhere, because what little of it exists is even slower and more disconnected than it is today. Imagine a future without a world-class rail line, where the only way to get anywhere in California is via ever-increasingly congested highways of varying widths and conditions.
That’s a big nope.
DeMaio has until May to collect enough signatures to put this on the 2020 ballot. Because it proposes a constitutional amendment, it needs more signatures than a regular initiative–in this case, 585,407 signatures of registered voters–to qualify. Once on the ballot, it would only need a simple majority vote to pass.
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