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Major labor, environmental and tenants groups have walked away from negotiations over Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to streamline approval for housing developments that include setting aside a percentage of units for low-income Californians, further imperiling the plan’s chances of passing this year.
“After several meetings without an agreement on a variety of requested changes, we believe it is time to focus on real affordable housing solutions that don't directly undermine local voices and place communities and our environment at risk,” said a statement from the State Building and Construction Trades Council, Sierra Club and Tenants Together, who are among a coalition of more than 60 groups who joined to oppose the governor’s housing proposal.
Cesar Diaz, the legislative director for the State Building and Construction Trades Council, confirmed that the coalition would not participate in further discussions over the plan.
“This needs much more time and a policy-vetting process,” Diaz said.
Brown wants to wipe away additional local approvals for housing projects that reserve a portion of their developments for low-income residents provided that the housing plan matches local zoning regulations. This means that developers could qualify under the plan if they proposed a 100-unit project on land zoned at that density, but not if they wanted to build anything larger.
The idea aims to address the state’s housing shortage, which many academics and economists blame for soaring housing prices.
But labor and environmental groups have long balked at the proposal because it strips away further environmental reviews from housing projects. The construction workers union also has wanted to guarantee higher wages for qualifying projects, something the governor’s office has resisted. Tenants groups have expressed concern that the plan doesn’t do enough to protect existing low-income renters.
The organizations are all significant interest groups influencing Democrats at the Capitol. No lawmaker on either side of the aisle has emerged as a champion of Brown’s plan, even after the governor attempted to sweeten the deal in June by agreeing to spend $400 million on low-income housing subsidies should the Legislature pass a version of his plan.
Brown spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman said the governor still plans to push forward with his plan.
"We find it odd that they are walking away from talks when the conversation is just beginning," Hoffman said in a statement. "The governor has been very clear that we need to constrain development costs, improve the pace of housing production and that the $400 million in the budget is contingent upon the passage of a 'by right' approval process for affordable housing.”
Previously, Ben Metcalf, the governor’s director of Housing and Community Development, has warned that Brown might not have interest in increased spending on housing or further regulatory reform should lawmakers not pass a measure this year. The deadline for a decision is the end of the legislative session in August.
This post has been updated with a statement from the governor's office.