With AB 1487 There is No Opt Out

What is California Assembly Bill 1487?

Authored by Assembly Member David Chiu (D-San Francisco), this bill enacts the San Francisco Bay Area Regional Housing Finance Act, which authorizes the creation of a region-wide housing authority with powers to “raise, administer, and allocate funding for affordable housing in the San Francisco Bay area.”

Thus, the Bay Area Housing Finance Authority (BAHFA) would act as a permanent agency, the purpose of which would be to place on the ballot of all nine Bay Area counties concurrently identical ballot measures proposing fees, taxes and bonds to finance construction of affordable housing, preserve existing rent-controlled housing, and to provide tenant protections.  BAHFA would be one more regional agency operating under the wing, and sharing staff with, the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

CA Housing JuntaThe passage by the California legislature of numerous housing-related bills during the past four or so years made it possible for developers to receive ministerial stream-lined approval of housing developments throughout the state – regardless of city or county zoning rules.   (Pictured are Senator Scott Wiener, Assembly Member David Chiu, and Senator Nancy Skinner, the more prolific affordable housing advocates in the California State Legislature.)

Fees, taxes and bonds approved regionally by voters under AB 1487 would help finance development projects regionally – regardless of whether voters in each individual county voted to approve such measures or not.

Examples of the success of such region-wide measures enabled by state legislation are Measure AA (enabled by AB 746) approved regionally by voters June 2016, and Regional Measure 3 (enabled by SB 595) approved regionally by voters June 2018.

AB 1487 is currently housed in the Senate Appropriations Committee. As of today, no hearing date has been indicated. Perhaps legislators are having second thoughts about the viability of AB 1487? After all, the Appropriations Committee was the one that summarily placed Senate Bill 50 (the bill some have labeled WIMBY – Wall Street in My Back Yard) in hibernation.

Highlights of AB 1487

* The findings and declarations in Section 64501, i.e. why the bill’s author thinks his bill should be enacted, follow the by-now required mantra that there is a grand housing crisis due in essence to cities and counties failure to provide “enough” housing, and therefore, legislation needs to be enacted overriding local laws and regulations.

The housing crisis in the San Francisco Bay area is regional in nature and too great to be addressed individually by the region’s 101 cities and 9 counties.

However, the current process is anything but regional; instead each city and county is each responsible for their own decisions around housing …

Regional funding is necessary to help address the housing crisis in the San Francisco Bay area by delivering resources and technical assistance at a regional scale …

* The version previous to amendments made to AB 1487 on July 10, listed in great detail the powers of the Bay Area Housing Finance Authority. The current version does not. In other words, the door is left wide open as to what the Authority would be empowered to do. Here is what is left of the list of powers, in Section 64514, including the bills applicability to any other agency that might replace the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

The board may make and enforce rules and regulations necessary for governing the authority, the preservation of order, and the transaction of business.

In exercising the powers and duties conferred on the authority by this title, the board may act by resolution.

It is the intent of the Legislature that the powers granted to the authority and the executive board under this title shall be transferred to a future regional agency if an agency is established to replace the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments and integrate regional transportation and housing funding and policy decisions within the San Francisco Bay area under one governing board, subsequent to a robust public engagement process at the regional level.

* Because California legislators have labeled the current high-cost housing in the state a crisis – not state and regional land-use policies unbeneficial to the general public – they can enact legislation that overrides any and all local laws and regulations. For example, AB 1487 specifically indicates the bill is not subject to either the orderly reorganization of city and county governments, or the relative independence of charter cities.

The formation and jurisdictional boundaries of the authority are not subject to the Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Local Government Reorganization Act of 2000 (Division 3 (commencing with Section 56000) of Title 5).

The Legislature finds and declares that providing a regional financing mechanism for affordable housing development and preservation in the San Francisco Bay area, as described in this section and Section 64501, is a matter of statewide concern and is not a municipal affair as that term is used in Section 5 of Article XI of the California Constitution. Therefore, this title applies to all cities within the San Francisco Bay area, including charter cities.

California’s Acme Co.

Acme CoRemember Willie E. Coyote? He tried so hard to defeat the Road Runner, but he consistently used products manufactured by the Acme Co. that failed to operate at all, exploded prematurely, or otherwise caused Willie Coyote the worst of harm. Some folks just don’t learn….

If after half a dozen or so years, say from the implementation of Plan Bay Area, and after numerous state mandates purportedly intended to make housing more affordable, California still sports the most unaffordable housing in the nation, then it would appear the state is facing a Willie E. Coyote vs. The Road Runner struggle.

The main characters in the struggle: On one side homeowners who worked hard to purchase a single-family home in a nice and quiet neighborhood, and wish to keep their neighborhood nice and quiet, as well as their home values astronomical. On the other side newcomers who want to live in those neighborhoods, whether the neighborhoods remain nice and quiet or not, and whether they can afford the market cost of those neighborhoods.

The supporting characters: Legislators at all levels of state government understand that clustering job-creating businesses as well as homes within narrow areas increases the value of both, which translates into higher state GDP and higher revenue from property taxes. Couple that with residents in the quiet nice neighborhoods that do not want job-creating businesses anywhere near them.

So, everybody in California seems to be a fan of the Acme Co. Will AB 1487 reach the finish line and thus change the entire character of city and county land-use planning? Will California residents realize AB 1487 offers no opt out for cities and counties?

The Ballot Box is the Ultimate Decider

AB 1487, as all affordable housing bills, will surely come with a price tag, because somebody has to pay for somebody to benefit.  In the case of AB 1487, the price tag will be in the billions,

The San Francisco Bay area faces an annual funding shortfall of two billion five hundred million dollars ($2,500,000,000) in its efforts to address the affordable housing crisis.  Section 64501 (e)

So far, legislators have not succeeded in doing away with voters’ rights to weigh in on tax proposals. Therefore, the expectedly huge amount of taxes needed to fund AB 1487 would have to be approved at the ballot box.

Since the bill does not offer residents an opt out, the ballot box will become the only venue available to those opposed to the bill to just say no.

Update July 13, 2019

It now has surfaced that on July 9, two days before the scheduled hearing before the Senate Governance and Finance Committee, the sponsors of AB 1487 wrote a letter “To Whom it May Concern” saying they are “temporarily hitting the pause button…” on AB 1487 to allow for more time for feedback from the two main Bay Area bureaucracies deeply involved in land-use issues, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments.  The Marin Post has a good article about the letter.

Good time for voters to use the “pause” to provide their own feedback.