Will controversial California housing law become permanent?

Your guide to California policy and politics
Sameea Kamal BY Sameea Kamal February 14, 2023
Presented by American Property Casualty Insurance Association, Dairy Cares, Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership and New California Coalition

Will controversial California housing law become permanent?

From CalMatters political reporter Ben Christopher:

In 2017, California lawmakers passed one of the state’s most controversial and consequential housing laws, but they included an expiration date — 2025 — to see how things panned out.

Sen. Scott Wiener, the San Francisco Democrat who authored the bill, is pleased with the results so far. Monday, he introduced a bill to make the law a permanent fixture — with a slight tweak that could kick off another union-on-union spat in the state Capitol.

Modeled in part on a civil rights law from Massachusetts, Wiener’s five-year-old law presented an ultimatum for local governments hostile to new development: Either start permitting enough new homes to meet the state’s housing goals — or start fast-tracking new apartments, so long as they meet a set of basic qualifications.

There’s been a lot of fast-tracking since the law passed. 

According to data compiled by researchers at UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation, developers have used the law to speed up approval for nearly 12,000 new units. While that’s a lot of new homes, it’s far short of the 2.5 million that Gov. Gavin Newsom has pledged to bring on line by the end of his gubernatorial tenure.

Flanked by union carpenters, Wiener unveiled his new Senate Bill 423 at the site of a supportive housing complex in San Francisco that supporters of the law cite as a Senate Bill 35 success story

  • Wiener: “It’s very simple. You meet all the rules…you get your permit without a hyper-politicized, chaotic process that could take years and lead to litigation.”

The prominent inclusion of the California Conference of Carpenters was no coincidence. The bill would require any developer who wants to use the law to pay their workers union-level wages. But it shaves off a requirement that a certain share of the workforce actually be union members. 

That distinction was the cause of a split in organized labor last year: The carpenters successfully backed a bill making it easier to convert old strip malls into apartments with the mere wage requirement, but the Construction and Building Trades Council pushed another with the hiring requirement.   

In other housing news:


Electric vehicles: CalMatters is writing a series of stories on California’s road to more electric cars and trucks. Starting in 2035, no gas-powered vehicles will be sold in the state. Do you have questions about this transformation? Submit them here.

Also, if you’re an EV owner who lives in one of these zip codes (94022, 94027, 94301, 94028, 94024, 90402, 92657) and would be willing to talk to a CalMatters reporter about your experience, email nadia@calmatters.org.    


1 The guaranteed income experiment

Noé Salgado in Oakland on Jan. 13, 2023. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters
Noé Salgado, a recipient in a guaranteed income program, in Oakland on Jan. 13, 2023. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

The city of Stockton made national headlines four years ago when it started its guaranteed income experiment, in which it gave 125 households $500 a month, no strings attached. 

The preliminary results: A 2021 report found that after a year, the recipients were nearly twice as likely as a control group to be able to pay for an unexpected expenses, were more likely to have jobs and said their mental health was better.

Now, more than 40 similar pilot programs have run, are operating or are planning to launch around the state, CalMatters’ California Divide reporter Jeanne Kuang found. They’re sending certain groups of low-income people unrestricted cash payments ranging from $300 to $1,800 a month for periods of six months to three years. 

In all, the programs represent the largest modern U.S. experiment in unrestricted cash payments, with more than 12,000 Californians expected to receive more than $180 million in public and private funds. 

  • Former Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs: “I hope people learn that you can trust people with money. Money may not solve every single issue, but every single issue is more solve-able when folks have their basics taken care of.”

Proponents argue that unconditional cash — as opposed to typical government assistance programs — gives people in poverty the freedom to address the myriad challenges that hold them back: high rent or a broken-down car, a lack of savings or an unexpected emergency.

Critics say such unrestricted payouts discourage work, and that California can’t afford to expand its social safety net this way. Also among the skeptics: Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, leader of the California Labor Federation, who argues that relying on cash programs to supplement family incomes lets employers off the hook for paying low wages.

  • Gonzalez Fletcher: “If you work 40 hours a week, or 50 or 60 hours a week, you should not live in poverty, and you should not be able to qualify for social service programs.”

What’s it like for participants? Some told Jeanne that they were able to spend more time with their family, take a more active role in their kids’ education or take training for job prospects.

  • Noé Salgado, who works the equivalent of two warehouse jobs, treated his family to an amusement park trip:  “It felt really good to see my kids happy. It was a feeling I’ll never forget.”

Jeanne reports on more participant experiences. 

2 Eyes on justice programs

California State Senator Steven Bradford (right) speaks during a Reparations Task Force Meeting at San Diego State on Jan. 28, 2023. Phot by Ariana Drehsler for CalMatters
State Sen. Steven Bradford (right) speaks during a Reparations Task Force Meeting at San Diego State on Jan. 28, 2023. Phot by Ariana Drehsler for CalMatters

Monday brought a torrent of state Capitol news on criminal justice. So let’s get right to the developments:  

Traffic stops: Citing the death of Tyre Nichols, the 29-year-old Black man who was beaten by police officers after being pulled over for reckless driving in Memphis last month, state Sen. Steven Bradford introduced a bill that aims to reduce racial profiling by limiting “pretextual stops” — those made for minor traffic violations with the intent of investigating other crimes for which there may not be probable cause.  

According to Bradford, stops for petty violations such as expired registration or tinted windows instead result in “racially biased fishing expeditions.” The San Pedro Democrat says these stops became more prevalent after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1996 that officers had discretion for traffic stops.

He introduced a similar bill last year that failed. But two reports have the potential to change the outcome this year. An analysis published last month by the state Department of Justice’s Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board found that during stops in 2021, officers requested to search Black people nearly twice as often as white people. And California’s Committee on Revision of the Penal Code recommends prohibiting police officers from stopping people for technical, non-safety-related offenses. 

  • Bradford: “We have seen far too many times how traffic stops can rapidly escalate and turn deadly. In this day and age, there’s no reason why Californians should be stopped and potentially subjected to brutality or dehumanization because of an expired license plate.”

Sexually violent predator release program: Senate Republican Leader Brian Jones of El Cajon asked the Joint Legislative Audit Committee to look into the contract issued to Liberty Healthcare to run the Sexually Violent Predator Conditional Release Program, overseen by the Department of State Hospitals

  • Jones: “East Coast-based Liberty Healthcare sneaks into unsuspecting communities up and down California and employs a disturbing placement strategy known as ‘Hide the Predator,’ in which full details of where they are leasing homes for SVPs are kept secret from neighbors, school officials, and even local law enforcement.”

Asked about the audit request, the department issued a statement to CalMatters saying it “remains committed to providing effective treatment in a safe environment and in a fiscally responsible manner.”

The program, which began in 1996, is aimed at rehabilitation, not punishment, according to the department. A court determines if a person is eligible for conditional release and where they will live. “Community safety is the top priority,” according to a department fact sheet

Jones is seeking an audit into how many people have been “successfully placed” — meaning never re-arrested — since 2003; how much the state has paid to Liberty Healthcare and other vendors over the last 20 years for the program; whether Liberty Health has met the Department’s standard of community safety.

Cash bail: Last but not least, our partners at CBS13 in Sacramento have an exclusive story on a new study on cash bail, a long-running topic of controversy.

An updated study by the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office finds suspects who were released on zero bail were twice as likely to be rearrested for felonies and three times as likely to be rearrested for violent crimes compared to those who had to post bail.

The study compared the rearrest rate of 100 suspects who were released without posting bail in 2020 and 2021 to a sample of 100 who had to post bail in 2018 and 2019. A caveat: The study doesn’t directly address one of the main arguments for bail reform — that someone’s ability to pay does not impact their likelihood to recommit a crime.

Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig said he believes the study doesn’t prove whether bail reform is good or bad, but that it proves judges should be the ones deciding who should be released without bail. In 2018, the governor signed into law a measure to end cash bail statewide. But in November 2020, voters approved Proposition 25, backed by the bail bond industry, which overturned the law. Dozens of counties employed zero-bail policies to avoid overcrowded jails during the pandemic.


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to close a loophole that allows wealthy Californians to escape state income taxes, but it could affect a few of his closest allies.


Other things worth your time

Some stories may require a subscription to read

Here’s what historic storms mean for California fire season // San Francisco Chronicle

Will California take this major step to fight climate change? // San Francisco Chronicle

California lawmaker pushes ‘cannabis cafes’ in new bill // Los Angeles Times 

How SF’s housing plan could change neighborhoods // San Francisco Chronicle

Sacramento may not reopen ‘Safe Ground’ homeless site // Sacramento Bee

SF pledged to stamp out racism at City Hall, but little has changed // San Francisco Standard

U.S. senators fault DOJ for ‘appalling’ conditions in L.A. jails // Los Angeles Times 

Memphis released video of Tyre Nichols’ killing. Why not L.A.? // Los Angeles Times

Tech and biotech firms launch more layoffs, job cuts widen // Mercury News

Opinion: Soft corruption is the norm in state government // Orange County Register 

See you tomorrow


Tips, insight or feedback? Email sameea@calmatters.org.

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