Putting teeth in California housing goals – The Pasadena Star-News

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You don’t necessarily always like to see various aspects of government in California seeking financial penalties against other aspects of government in California.

It’s unseemly, in that we’re not talking Monopoly money here. It’s not “theirs” — not government’s — it’s our money, that we gave them. It merely encourages highly paid government lawyers to go out and hire even more highly paid private attorneys to advise them in their fight to keep their version of our money.


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But sometimes, absent being able to throw a government in jail when it is flaunting rules or even laws that matter to all Californians, financial penalties or at least the threat of them are appropriate bargaining chips.

Housing is the No. 1 priority for Californians right now. The lack of supply and the high price for what there is affects almost every aspect of life in our state. It is the true root of the homelessness crisis that plagues us; it affects our economy in not letting people live near where they work; it affects our society in not allowing younger generations into the real-estate market, prompting them to look elsewhere to live.

So the fines that are a part of Senate Bill 1037, authored by Sen. Scott Wiener, the Legislature’s toughest attack dog in the fight for more housing, are appropriate.

Wiener’s office says the bill would strengthen the state attorney general’s “ability to enforce state housing law with fines against cities that commit egregious violations of the law. This heightened enforcement will create stronger incentives for cities to comply with state housing laws. SB 1037 passed 23-9 and heads next to the Assembly, where it must pass by Aug. 31.”

Wiener says the bill applies only to cities “that have acted arbitrarily, not to cities that make good-faith errors.” And it’s not like the money gets purloined for the state’s General Fund: “The fines generated by the bill’s civil penalties will be deposited into an affordable housing fund for use in the offending city.”

The problem today is that if a judge decides a California city is in violation of state housing law, while fines can still be imposed, they can wait up to a year to comply.

“Local governments thus have no real incentive to follow the law since they can force the state to sue, lose, and then simply remedy the violation at that point and avoid penalties. This is a huge waste of taxpayer resources and undermines California’s housing goals,” Wiener says.

Even local politicians who acknowledge the obvious fact that California is underhoused often support only solutions that aren’t in their backyard. They know that creativity is needed, from more ADUs in formerly single-family neighborhoods to affordable housing in formerly commercial zones to reforming CEQA to streamlining ancient zoning codes.

But they too often want the reforms to occur in the next city over, insisting that the status quo is serving their city well.

The housing elements that every city and county in the state must update all go toward doing their part to meet their share of the 2022 California housing plan, which correctly says the state needs to plan for about 2.5 million new homes in the near future in order to put an affordable roof over the heads of all of its residents.

SB 1037 would allow the state to apply a minimum civil penalty of $10,000 per month, possibly going to $50,000 per month, for each violation by stick-in-the-mud cities. Nice to see that any such fines would go back into housing in the recalcitrant pols’ own communities.

The Assembly should join the Senate in passing the bill, and the governor should sign it.

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