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California Legislature

California cities would have to make it easier to build houses under new legislation

The grand opening the Oceana affordable housing development in Huntington Beach. (Don Leach / Independent)
The grand opening the Oceana affordable housing development in Huntington Beach. (Don Leach / Independent)

California cities that are falling behind on housing production goals set by the state would be forced to remove some of their development restrictions under legislation from a Bay Area state senator.

State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) released new details in his bill, SB 35, Monday morning that would require cities to approve new housing in areas already zoned for high-density development provided developers set aside some units for low-income residents. The bill’s provisions would only apply in cities where growth isn’t keeping pace with housing production targets developed by the state every eight years that are designed to ensure California has enough homes for its growing population to live affordably.

Right now, that’s not happening. The state’s median home price of $485,800 is more than 2 1/2 times the national average, with the state’s poorest residents the hardest hit. And in the most recent eight-year housing cycle ending in 2014, production was less than half of the state target.

Wiener, a former San Francisco supervisor, said California’s affordability crisis requires the state to involve itself more in housing development, which is primarily controlled by local governments.

“Local control is about how a community achieves its housing goals, not whether it achieves those goals,” Wiener said in a statement. “SB 35 sets clear and reasonable standards to ensure that all communities are part of the solution by creating housing for our growing population.”

Wiener’s bill is a narrower measure than a failed effort proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year , which also took aim at local development rules. Unlike Brown’s proposal, Wiener’s would only apply to cities behind on their housing targets and on sites already planned at high densities. Wiener also would require developments that would qualify for speedier local review to pay construction workers at a rate often equivalent to labor union wages — a key point that caused the state’s construction worker union to oppose Brown’s plan.

When unveiling his budget this month, Brown said he would consider supporting legislation that would limit some local development restrictions . A spokesman for Wiener said SB 35 was the senator’s response to Brown’s position.

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