Four California Stories Illustrate Toxic Brew Driving Housing Crunch
California’s chronic housing shortage shows no signs of abating with construction scarcely half of the 180,000 new units the state says are needed each year to close the demand/supply deficit.
There is no single reason, but rather a toxic mélange of high costs, regulatory overkill and stubborn resistance from local government officials catering to the not-in-my-backyard sentiments of their constituents.
Four very recent situations both frame the housing dilemma and indicate that pro-housing pressures may be having some effect:
SACRAMENTO: Anyone who doubts the negative impact of high costs on housing should take a look at the budget for a 124-unit affordable housing project on the state-owned site of a former National Guard armory.
The state is donating the land to the non-profit developer, Bridge Housing Corp., without cost and the City of Sacramento is waiving $468,624 in impact fees. But the budget for the project is still $82.4 million, which works out to about $665,000 per unit — enough to buy a very nice house for every projected low-income tenant.
Less than half of the projected cost is for construction; most is eaten up in paper expenses, including $1.1 million for “permit processing fees” and $9.9 million for Bridge.
CONCORD: What would be the San Francisco Bay Area’s largest ever housing development, 13,000 units on the site of the former Concord Naval Weapons Station, is stalling out.
Plans to develop the site have been kicking around for decades and one developer spent $15 million before abandoning its effort because it reached an impasse with local construction unions. A second development team, Concord First Partners, has been trying to make it happen for several years but recently warned that it may have to pull out too.
“We have re-examined our assumptions over and over,” the consortium said in a letter to local officials. “We are applying actual construction costs based upon our knowledge of the area,” the letter states. “The conclusion is that the project, as we have analyzed it in its current form, does not work for any responsible development entity.”
HUNTINGTON BEACH: This Orange County coastal community has been a poster child for resistance to housing projects it deems incompatible with its upscale ambience but after years of delay finally approved a 48-unit condominium project.
Years of court battles with pro-housing groups and pressure from new state laws finally forced the city to throw in its beach towel last month.
Ursula Luna-Reynosa, Huntington Beach’s development director, cited the state’s tough new laws aimed at recalcitrant cities. “Under the Housing Accountability Act, if it does meet those objectives and there are no health and safety concerns, the city’s ability to deny the project is very difficult,” Luna-Reynosa told the city council before its vote.
TIBURON: Marin County is another hotbed of opposition to new housing, but the state Court of Appeal last month slapped down Tiburon’s nearly half-century-long efforts to block construction of a few new homes on a hill overlooking the tiny city.
In rejecting Tiburon’s last-ditch effort to block the project by invoking the California Environmental Quality Act, the court complained that the Act is being misused, echoing the sentiments of housing advocates.
“It must be tough enough when the opposition is purely private,” the opinion concluded. “However, when private opposition is joined with official hostility, CEQA becomes an even more fearsome weapon. When the project proponent faces sustained private opposition, plus the combined animus of two levels of local government, the temptation to throw in the towel must be overwhelming. Something is very wrong with this picture.”
Yes it is.
About the Author
Dan Walters has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. He began his professional career in 1960, at age 16, at the Humboldt Times. For more columns by Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary.