Redevelopment, Affordable Housing, State Legislature, and Local Control …

BY: Mayor W. Clarke Conway, City of Brisbane,

Redevelopment, Affordable Housing, State Legislature, and Local Control …
BY: Mayor W. Clarke Conway, City of Brisbane,
Those of you who know me know that I’m somewhat of a history buff. So let’s talk some history…
When Governor Brown was elected in 2010, one of the first things he did was propose eliminating redevelopment agencies in California to help solve the state’s fiscal crisis. The Democratic Legislature followed his lead and did just that. Most of the cities who had redevelopment agencies, along with the League of California Cities, sued the State of California but lost.
This action by the Legislature and the Governor took away the key vehicle that cities had to provide affordable housing, housing programs, and economic development. For example, Brisbane’s Redevelopment Agency had utilized its affordable housing funds to purchase the property and build the Visitacion Garden Apartments – 14 apartments for low- and moderate-income Seniors, along with the adjacent Senior Sunrise Room, to provide funding for seven Habitat for Humanity single-family homes, and to provide silent loans up to $200,000.00 for first-time home buyers. Brisbane, along with most cities, used these funds to directly provide affordable housing. The Legislature and Governor Brown created a vacuum for affordable housing all across the state.
Then in 2014, Leslie Appleton-Young, the Chief Economist for the California Association of Realtors called attention to the “concern brewing about the strength and vitality of the California housing market.” She reported that California had a “housing affordability crisis” due to median home prices growing while mortgage interest rates were rising, effectively pricing 70% of first-time home buyers out of the California market.
The California State Auditor confirmed the burgeoning housing crisis in its March 17, 2015 report, “California’s High Housing Costs: Causes and Consequences.” The State Auditor identifies the loss of redevelopment funds as a contributing factor in limiting cities’ ability to help combat the crisis.
Governor Brown and the Legislature did not get around to addressing the housing crisis they helped create until 2017, when they agreed on 15 new housing laws which took effect January 1, 2018. The Legislature had the opportunity to restore cities’ redevelopment districts as part of this package, but failed to do so. The Legislature also passed Senate Bill 35 (Weiner – San Francisco) that further erodes the power of cities to make local land use decisions over housing, and Governor Brown signed it despite the objection of cities throughout the state.
SB 35 has already had a dramatic impact on one of our neighbors, the City of Cupertino. In 2016, the owner of the old Vallco Shopping Center put a locally negotiated, City-approved plan to redevelop the shopping center before the voters for approval and lost. In March 2018, the owner of the shopping center cut the City out of future planning for the site by invoking SB 35. SB 35 allows the landowner to bypass the City’s elected officials and land use policies, provided the new development includes housing and that 50% of the housing is affordable.
The original ballot proposal rejected by Cupertino’s voters, Measure D, would have enacted the Vallco Town Center Specific Plan. The City-negotiated Specific Plan permitted land uses of approximately 389-800 residential units, including approximately 20% dedicated for senior housing, and 2.6 million sq. ft. of office, commercial, hotel, park, civic/educational within the 58-acre Vallco Shopping District. So, more than a year after Cupertino’s voters rejected Measure D, the landowner announced a new development plan under SB 35 calling for 2,402 units of housing, of which 1,201 will be affordable.
Brisbane is fortunate that SB 35 does not apply to our largest tract of land, the Baylands. But, as Mayor, I am mindful that just as SB 35 was enacted at the expense of local control over land use, there are currently two controversial bills on Governor Brown’s desk that would further remove local land use control. I sent letters requesting a veto of both bills. Those bills are SB 828 and AB 2923. You can read the letters on the City’s website here:
Removing local land use control is the new trend in Sacramento and I am afraid it will likely get worse in the coming years with a new governor and new legislators who are campaigning on tackling the housing crisis from Sacramento and not city hall.