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By Carolyn Coleman, Special to CALmatters

As a recent California transplant and the head of an association of nearly 500 cities, I am in awe at the diversity of California communities.

Whether it’s geography, climate, ethnicity or economy, the Golden State is unique. Yet there is a critical challenge that binds California’s communities: the unaffordability of housing for many of our residents.

Addressing this crisis demands bold solutions, hard discussions and open minds. A diverse group of interests must come to the table and, yes, that includes California’s cities.

We agree with the fundamental problem: there aren’t enough homes being built. And cities play an important role in increasing supply.

While cities don’t build homes, we do lay the groundwork for housing by planning and zoning new projects in our communities. This is a transparent process that involves input from residents, detailed environmental documents, and approval of projects consistent with our plans.

In other words, cities set the table for new housing construction. And we should be held accountable to ensure we’re doing our part.

Over the past two years, the League of California Cities has strongly supported passage of legislation and ballot measures to streamline the housing approval process, and to increase funds for affordable housing through Propositions 1 and 2 on last November’s ballot.

We are willing to explore legislation to ensure that building fees, architectural standards and parking requirements are reasonable, and that new subdivisions planned by cities include zoning for multi-family units and access for homebuyers in all income ranges.

We cheer Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget proposal to allocate nearly $2 billion for housing tax credits, moderate income housing and other affordable housing resources.  We also support the governor’s proposals to accelerate Proposition 1 and 2 funding, and to provide grants to local governments to develop plans, conduct permitting and to zone or rezone to meet our housing needs.

But since Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature eliminated redevelopment in 2011, local governments have lost billions of dollars in funding for affordable housing.

We strongly support the effort by Sen. Jim Beall of San Jose and Assemblyman David Chiu of San Francisco to begin a serious conversation about restoring a more robust form of property tax increment financing for housing and associated infrastructure in our downtowns.

Over the past two years the Legislature has passed nearly 30 new laws, many focused on addressing various aspects of the local housing planning and approval process, including strong new accountability provisions that authorize $10,000 per unit fines for local governments that deny housing consistent with their local plans.

Cities do not build homes. Home builders, the housing market, the availability of tradespeople, building mandates and other factors are largely responsible for where and how homes get built.

Even after local governments approve housing construction, there is no guarantee that housing will be built.

In fact, new research soon to be released by UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs will show that cities and counties have zoned land for the construction of 2.8 million homes. And a 2018 Construction Industry Research Board report listed more than 450,000 new homes under construction or approved. Because of market forces, however, they will not be built for five years.

As such, it is reasonable to expect cities to do their part by planning, zoning and approving housing projects, and to minimize delays, costs and barriers to construction. It is not reasonable to penalize cities that are meeting their responsibilities but where builders decide not to build.

Recent lawsuits between the state and the city of Huntington Beach are unfortunate. But hopefully they ultimately lead to collaboration and resolution between both sides and a recognition that we can make more progress when cities and the state work together.

We can boost housing supply without abandoning the values of public transparency and civic engagement that are central to building strong communities.

This housing crisis is indiscriminate, gripping all of our communities. Cities are a part of the solution.


Carolyn Coleman is the League of California Cities’ executive director, [email protected]. She wrote this commentary for CALmatters.