Blogging Bayport Alameda

May 25, 2016

Straighten up and “by-right”

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:05 am

Big news in development news and which will confuse a lot of anti-development, anti-labor folks as to what/who they despise more: developers or unions.

The big development news: Governor Jerry Brown has floated a proposal to make certain types of housing development in certain areas by right which means that “quality of life” opposition would no longer be sufficient to derail development.  Here’s the short summary from the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition:

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.

Here’s the full analysis here from the LAO.

According to an article in the LA Times, the point of this streamlined process is to allow supply to help lower the demand as opposed to relying solely on public subsidy, highlights:

As part of his revised budget released Friday, Brown announced what he said was a better solution: making it easier to build homes for low-income residents. In a new package of legislation, Brown is proposing to streamline the permitting process for developers building affordable homes.

“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.”

Brown’s move indicates he sides with the idea, promoted by academics and economists, that the primary issue driving the state’s out-of-control housing costs isn’t a lack of housing subsidies, but rather that there’s not enough homes to meet demand.

Opponents include the usual suspects like the Sierra Club, but also, labor unions.  From a different LA Times article:

Housing projects that qualify under Brown’s plan would allow developers to avoid the law.

“These developments would be gone from CEQA,” said David Pettit, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Economists and some housing advocates argue that that’s the point. Existing laws can require multiple environmental reviews, all of which can be time-consuming and costly and sometimes lead to outcomes, such as blocking bike lanes, that aren’t considered Earth-friendly. The law frequently is cited as a significant barrier to increasing housing supply.

Brown has talked tough about reforming CEQA for many years. But in a recent interview with Blueprint, a magazine affiliated with UCLA, Brown seemed resigned to leaving the law as is. Environmentalists and unions are too invested, Brown said, with unions blocking changes because they use it as leverage to force developers to agree to labor-friendly hiring rules.

“The unions won’t let you because they use it as a hammer to get project labor agreements,” Brown said.

If passed this will be a huge change to the face of local development, as you can guess, this is going to be a massive battle, it will be interesting to see how committed the Governor is to actually getting this thing passed because it’s not going to be an easy task.



  1. Does a project need to meet all 5 of those conditions to qualify?

    Comment by dave — May 25, 2016 @ 6:29 am

    • Yes, I would think so. The flood plain one, depending on how strictly that is defined, would exclude some Alameda.

      Comment by Lauren Do — May 25, 2016 @ 6:54 am

  2. It’s a courageous stand for a Democratic Governor to take, bucking one of his largest support groups- the unions. But IMO it’s the right step to take. Now, we just have to convince our Democratic representatives in SAC to vote for the plan, which will put them in direct opposition to some of their strongest backers, the unions. Will SAC and our local representatives have the backbone to do what’s right for the communities they represent, or will they cave to union pressure? Mr. Brown must not be contemplating running for office again. . .

    Comment by Not. A. Alamedan — May 25, 2016 @ 9:10 am

  3. The fact that CEQA is the hammer that the unions’ use to pressure decision makers is exhibit A in government dysfunction. NIMBYs shouldn’t be able to prevent urban infill housing for the workforce on the grounds of saving the environment.

    Comment by BMac — May 25, 2016 @ 2:15 pm

  4. So Brown’s now a Trump supporter, eh. Maybe he should be his running mate. I’d vote for him.

    Comment by jack — May 26, 2016 @ 11:14 am

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