So, yes, California remains a capital for innovation, but only until all the union work rules crush that one bright spot in the economy. Meanwhile, the rest of the state is becoming something of an innovation-free zone, given lawmakers’ ongoing efforts to saddle businesses with bone-crushing regulations and tax rates. If Brown really believes in innovation, he ought to worry less about federal funding and more about the way his union allies mess with the Golden State’s economy.
The major components of a legislative package aimed at addressing California’s housing affordability crisis cleared their biggest hurdle late Thursday night when the Assembly passed six bills in a tight vote. Legislative leaders had previously negotiated with Gov. Jerry Brown over measures to generate money for low-income housing development, fund housing programs and streamline the approval process for new projects. But Democrats in swing districts hesitated for weeks to pass one funding bill that could be described as another tax hike, after earlier this year raising the gas tax and renewing a climate change program that could also increase prices at the pump.
California’s political leaders, having ignored and even abetted our housing shortage, now pretend that they will “solve it.” Don’t bet on it. Their big ideas include a $4 billion housing subsidy bond and the stripping away of local control over zoning, and mandating densification of already developed areas. None of these steps addresses the fundamental causes for California’s housing crisis. Today, barely 29 percent of California households, notes the California Association of Realtors, can afford a median-priced house; in 2012, it was 56 percent. At the heart of the problem lie “urban containment” policies that impose “urban growth boundaries” to restrict — or even prohibit — new suburban detached housing tracts from being built on greenfield land. Given the strong demand for single-family homes, it is no surprise that prices have soared. Before these policies were widely adopted, housing prices in California had about the same relationship to incomes as in other parts of the country. Today, prices in places like Los Angeles, the Bay Area and Orange County are two to three times as high, adjusted for incomes, as in less-regulated states. Even in the once affordable Inland Empire, housing prices are nearing double that of most other areas, closing off one of the last remaining alternatives for middle- and working-class families.
Democratic lawmakers are siding with organized labor in its battle with automaker Tesla, inserting a provision in a last-minute bill to spend $1.5 billion in cap-and-trade money. The package largely spends funds on a variety of anti-pollution programs, such as those to retrofit and replace smog-belching big rigs and buses. But the legislation, amended late Monday to be ready for votes before lawmakers adjourn for the year on Friday, also would inject the state into an increasingly acrimonious union organizing campaign at automaker Tesla’s Fremont plant. Companies that want to be eligible for the state’s zero-emission vehicle rebate program – a major driver of Tesla sales – would need to be certified by the state labor secretary “as fair and responsible in the treatment of their workers.”
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?