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California Today: Lawmakers Shelve a Potential Remedy to the Housing Crisis


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Over the past eight years, the San Francisco Bay Area has added about 676,000 jobs and 176,000 housing units. The entirely predictable result has been a surge in rents and home prices along with a rising homeless problem that has jetloads of tourists convinced that one of the richest places on earth is actually a dystopia of misery and destitution.

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Can anybody fix this? Or is this just the new California reality that residents are going to have to accept as normal ? It’s an existential question for the world’s fifth largest economy and the nation’s most populous state. Despite its reputation for all things liberal, California has the highest poverty rate in the country — about one in five people — once the cost of shelter is figured in. This is not for lack of jobs or money, but because its cities are so exclusive that they are essentially turning working-class residents into poor people.

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Legislators have passed a few streamlining measures and voters have approved billions for new affordable housing, but so far the biggest ideas have been mostly pushed aside. The latest example came Thursday, when S.B. 50, an ambitious but divisive bill, was shelved until next year . The bill would expand the state’s housing supply by forcing cities to allow apartment buildings in the low-slung bungalow neighborhoods on which the state was built. In a statement, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he was “disappointed.” So was Scott Wiener, the San Francisco state senator who introduced the measure.

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Each year state legislators go through a Groundhog Day routine in which they introduce dozens of new housing bills that are full of technicalities and minutiae but fall into two basic categories. The first are bills that make it easier to build housing so that the long-term shortage can be rectified. The second are bills that provide more money for subsidized affordable housing and expand tenant protections so that people who already have affordable homes don’t lose them

This is the same balanced prescription that comes out of just about every commission or panel of experts that is asked to provide a remedy to the state’s most glaring and shameful problem. In sum: Fix the long-term housing shortage while offering triage tenants’ rights measures to prevent further displacement and homelessness

Legislators are in a vexing place politically. Polls show Californians are deeply concerned about housing costs and think radical action is needed. But elections and legislative sessions show the appetite for sweeping changes — either in adding housing or rent control — is limited. Anti-gentrification activists say bills to add more housing will only make displacement worse, while landlords say bills to provide rent control to tenants will only make displacement and gentrification worse, while residents of single-family neighborhoods say apartment buildings shouldn’t be near homes

Like S.B. 50, tenants’ rights bills are facing tough battles. A.B. 36, a bill that could potentially expand rent control to more tenants, appears to be delayed until next year. A.B. 1482 , a statewide rent cap that would extend some measure of rent control to the millions of California tenants who live outside the handful of cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles that already have rent regulations, is still alive but faces steep opposition from landlords’ groups

Where does it go? All we can count on for now is that next year will feature a renewed fight over S.B. 50. And dozens of other housing bills. And the housing problem getting worse

California Online (Please note: We regularly highlight articles on news sites that have limited access for nonsubscribers.)

More on the housing crisis

• S.B. 50 would have radically altered the state’s growth patterns to direct significant new development toward urban areas, something the bill’s backers said was necessary to make housing more affordable and to meet the state’s goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. [ Los Angeles Times ]

• ” It was the time to take a breath. We took a breath,” said Anthony Portantino, the state senator who is chairman of the committee that shelved the bill until next year. [ San Francisco Chronicle ]

Here’s what else we’re following

Image Gov. Gavin Newsom vowed to sue the Trump administration over the money for California’s troubled high-speed rail project. Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times • The Trump administration carried out its threat to take back nearly $1 billion in federal funds allocated for high-speed rail . [ The New York Times ]

The SAT is adding an “adversity score” to help colleges account for hardships like poverty amid concerns about the fairness of standardized tests. [The New York Times ]

Image Workers harvesting watermelons in LaBelle, Fla. Employers in agriculture, where undocumented immigrants dominate the workforce, were reeling from an onslaught of “no-match letters” from the government. Credit Eve Edelheit for The New York Times • The Trump administration has reinstated a policy of notifying employers when they have employees whose Social Security numbers don’t match their names. Employers are bracing for the loss of thousands of workers who lack legal status. [ The New York Times ]

Despite hundreds of new shelter beds and spending more than $300 million annually on homelessness, San Francisco has seen the number of homeless people rise by 17 percent since 2017 . [ San Francisco Chronicle ] San Jose saw an increase of 42 percent. [ Mercury News ]

Meet Brian Hofer , a warrior against surveillance technology. He’s a paralegal who drafted San Francisco’s ordinance forbidding city agencies to use facial recognition technology . [ The New York Times ]

Water history: 19th-century San Francisco had a problem — great location for a city, not enough drinking water. The city tapped a number of sources before settling on Hetch Hetchy . [ KQED ]

Image After nine years in jail awaiting trial, Neko Wilson was released when California changed its murder laws last fall. Credit Max Whittaker for The New York Times • After California changed its murder laws last fall, Neko Wilson was the first man to walk free. Then prosecutors tried to send him back to jail. [ The New York Times ]

With the aim of lifting up women in the art world, the third edition of the Every Woman Biennial is branching out to Los Angeles next month. [ The New York Times ]

And Finally … Some kitten news to lighten up your Friday: Construction workers in San Diego heard meows coming from a huge steel column that had been trucked 500 miles from Hayward. When workers tilted the column, five kittens slid out. The San Diego Humane Society was called to help nurse them back to health. Their names: Crowbar, Rebar, Chisel, Jackhammer and Piper. Video and photos of the road-tripping kittens are here

California Today goes live at 6 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: [email protected] .

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.

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