Money from a new tax on real estate transactions and a state bond issue will, by official estimates, result in 77,000 new housing units over five years when merged with funds from nonprofit groups, private investors and tax credits for low-income projects.
That’s less than 20 percent of the state’s projected need for additional housing over that period – and it could be years before any of the promised new housing is available. The regulatory fast-tracking in other bills could go further toward filling the need, but no one knows for certain.
Meanwhile, the new tax on real estate paperwork and new mandates to use “prevailing wages” in projects would actually make new housing development even more expensive.
The housing package continues a syndrome one might call “half-a-loafism.”
Brown has, instead, continued the recent practice of giving big projects with heavyweight support – especially major sports venues – full or partial exemptions from CEQA procedures. The current session, in fact, has still another proposed CEQA break for a proposed arena in Inglewood for the Los Angeles Clippers, which were recently purchased by Steve Ballmer, the billionaire former Microsoft CEO. Meanwhile, another bill would prohibit developers who run afoul of CEQA red tape from seeking project approvals via local ballot measures, as many have done. Tellingly, construction unions that use CEQA as a bludgeon are prime sponsors of the bill. It’s another indication that instead of fiddling with CEQA, and probably making it worse, Brown and the Legislature should overhaul it. If, as Brown says, it is truly “the Lord’s work,” then why aren’t they doing it?
And then there’s the Public Records Act, California’s landmark law giving the public, mostly via news media, access to official documents, with some exceptions. Unfortunately, the list of PRA exceptions seems to be growing as legislators, who are not inclined toward openness in the first place, protect their fellow officials and/or do the bidding of powerful interests. The current session has had 79 bills involving the PRA. While most of the proposals amount to innocuous boilerplate, the Legislature is moving those that create more exceptions and blocking those that would expand access.
It should come as no surprise that when the California Legislature recently began the process of divvying up proceeds from the state’s cap-and-trade auctions, a cavalcade of local officials, community activists and lobbyists rushed to Sacramento, with hands out.
Billions of dollars burning a hole in the state’s pocket has that effect on people, and the competition is fierce. Appeals from advocates to fund pet projects were spread over two days in late August, in windowless rooms before sometimes distracted officials. The requests are for cash for electric vehicles, to create green spaces, even for machines to cut pollution from cow manure.
Brevity is prized in this legislative equivalent of speed dating, which plays out in front of committees in the Senate and Assembly. There’s scant time to make the case for your cause. Talk too much, and you risk irritating the panelists. Nobody wants the stink eye from the people with the purse strings.
The state’s prison population has declined by more than one-fourth to comply with federal court orders, in part by diverting low-level felons into local jails via “realignment.”
Law enforcement officials and prosecutors generally opposed the new leniency, warning that putting fewer miscreants behind bars would inevitably increase crime. And the latest state crime report may point in that direction.
While property crimes such as burglary and car theft have continued to decline, down 1.9 percent between 2011 and 2016, violent crimes have spiked, up 7.4 percent during that period, with “aggravated assault” seeing the biggest jump.