Seemingly everybody in this city talks about the housing crisis. Now, some state lawmakers are trying to do something about it. I recently discussed this with my political roundtable panel at The Commonwealth Club.
JOHN ZIPPERER: Last summer, Gov. Jerry Brown tried to get the legislature to speed up the development — and of course increase the development — of housing units in the state, to address the affordability crisis as well as the availability crisis; they’re connected, obviously. There have been two San Francisco legislators who have been pushing this, Scott Weiner and David Chiu.
MARISA LAGOS (KQED reporter): This is sort of this tension we have seen for a lot of time in California between local control and NIMBYism, and questions over whether locals have gone too far to prevent building housing. So one of the bills that they got out of the Senate, for example, was by Scott Weiner, a Democrat from San Francisco, who is basically saying that if counties and cities don’t keep up with their stated goals under these housing plans that every community in the state has to do, that the building process can be streamlined.
A lot of what lawmakers are trying to do, if you talk to the people doing this, what they would say is they are trying to bring some sort of balance to this issue of: Of course, neighbors and people on the local level should be able to object if there’s something going on, but you also can’t just stop all housing development.
I think it’s interesting that the governor dangled out $400 million last year, which sounds like a lot of money but is really a tiny fraction of what we would need to build. But there’s a lot happening here. We’re talking about in-laws [units], were talking about building more, we’re talking about this level-of-control issue, we’re also talking about just whether we should give more money to local communities.
ZIPPERER: When we talk about the affordability and the cost of housing, every delay in the construction of the project also increases the price. Everyone involved is putting more money into it, they’re paying more insurance, etc. etc. So it could have a number of effects.
LAGOS: One of the bills that [David] Chiu is sponsoring would take away the mortgage deduction on second-homes, so you couldn’t take a deduction on your vacation home. Tony Atkins, former speaker and now senator, has another bill that would essentially add a 1-percent or less fee onto real estate transfers, and that money would go toward affordable housing.
So a lot is happening. the question is, Will it matter?
C.W. NEVIUS (Santa Rosa Press Democrat columnist; San Francisco Chronicle former columnist): John Rahaim is the head of the [San Francisco] Planning Department, and he came from Seattle. What he said happened in Seattle is you go to a certain neighborhood and someone wants to put up a five-story condominium. That is very carefully vetted. “We’re going to look at that, we’re going to see what the effect is on this neighborhood, what the effect is on this block. We’re going to see if it fits in.”
But once that happens, and once it is approved, then other people can build similar housing in that area. That’s not what happens in San Francisco. Every single one is a debate …
LAGOS: Every unit.
NEVIUS: Every unit. We have CEQA. There is also conditional review.
These are extreme examples, but there are people in San Francisco who, if someone wants to put a deck on the back of their unit, the neighbor says, “Are you going to be barbecuing on that deck?”
Well, we might barbecue.
“Well, I think the smoke might be a problem. I’m going to file a conditional review.”
It is possible to hold up housing.
However, we don’t want to push people out. We don’t want to make it gentrification. But a reasonable idea would be to say, let’s take a good close look at this; let’s say what you want to do and as long as you stick to the restrictions that we’ve applied here, that’s fine and that’s enough. But as it stands now in San Francisco and other places, even as you’re building, even as you finish it up, someone can file conditional review and we’ve got to start all over; you go back to City Hall.
Scott Weiner has been on this for years, and the number of people who said supply and demand doesn’t work in San Francisco — I’m sorry. I know they say, “It’s just a theory.” Like gravity, just a theory, but I think it’s pretty well been proved. The more supply, the lower the rents, the lower the prices. That’s true.
San Francisco needs to build. It needs to build smart. It needs to build up, not out. There’s a lot of things that can be done, and we’re ready and willing and eager to help people stay in San Francisco. We have to have that opportunity, and I think Scott Wiener’s got the right idea. The devil’s in the details with them.
RANDY SHANDOBIL (host of This Golden State Podcast; communications consultant; KTVU former political editor): Streamlining is like, “We’ll cut tax loopholes.” It sounds good, but what does it mean?
I agree with you. It sounds like a good idea, and when you talk about it in the abstract: “We need more housing in San Francisco, we need more housing in Oakland, we need more housing in the Bay Area.” But when it’s down the block from you, suddenly …
We all make fun of Donald Trump, “America first.” A lot of us are guilty — probably me, too — of “My neighborhood first,” “My house first.” I’m worried about my traffic. I’m worried about my school being overcrowded. I’m worried about my kid getting to school. I’m worried about losing my view.
So it’s really difficult, and if [Scott Wiener] could pull it off? Gosh, hats off to him.