Governor Announces Legislative Effort to Address Housing Costs and Access
As part of a $1.75 billion package to confront the housing cost crisis, Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday announced a major legislative proposal that sets higher short-term housing goals for cities and counties to meet.
The proposal would update and modernize the state’s long-term housing goals, known as Regional Housing Needs Allocations (RHNA), to better reflect regional housing and transportation needs. It would also direct the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), in higher short-term statewide housing goals, to adjust statewide targets for 2020 and 2021 based on factors such as jobs, households, and affordability.
The proposal provides $750 million in support and incentives to help jurisdictions plan and zone for these higher, ambitious housing targets. Of that, $250 million will go to cities for planning toward higher short-term housing goals, and $500 million will go to cities as incentives as they meet certain milestones of planning and zoning for more housing.
In taking steps toward long-term housing reform, HCD will collaborate with the Office of Planning and Research (OPR) to engage stakeholders and propose an improved RHNA process and methodology by December 31, 2022. And, beginning July 1, 2023, SB 1 Local Streets and Roads funds may be withheld from any jurisdiction that does not have a compliant housing element and has not zoned and entitled for its updated annual housing goals.
A separate budget trailer bill will propose new investments to spur housing production for the middle-class by allocating $500 million to expand the State Housing Tax Credit Program and pair it with the existing affordable housing federal tax credit program. Up to $200 million of this new allocation may allowably fund the creation of a new program targeting development of moderate-income housing for households of up to 120 percent of AMI. The proposal would also make a $500 million General Fund one-time allocation to expand CalHFA’s Mixed-Income Loan Program.
SB 190 on Defensible Space Clears Committee Hurdle, New Legislation on Vegetation Trimming
Legislation that requires the Office of the State Fire Marshal to develop a model defensible space program to be made available for use by a local government in the enforcement of the defensible space provisions passed out of Senate Governmental Organization Committee on a unanimous vote on Tuesday, March 12.
Senate Bill 190 (Dodd, D-Napa) directs the State Fire Marshal to do the following to increase awareness and compliance with defensible space rules:
· Develop a model defensible space ordinance for use by local jurisdictions.
· Allow local jurisdictions to recover related costs if they choose to adopt a defensible space ordinance.
· Provide an updated Wildland-Urban Interface building standards compliance training manual to local code enforcement personnel.
· Develop a guidance document for the maintenance of defensible space around structures for consideration as amendments to the California Green Building code.
SB 190 heads to the Senate Natural Resources Committee for an additional policy hearing.
In related news, Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, introduced legislation that would place an independent third party such as Cal Fire in charge of overseeing electric utility corporations’ compliance with tree and vegetation-trimming requirements to reduce wildfires.
“It’s clear that the current standard is not working,” Sen. Dodd said. “We need to make sure appropriate tree trimming and line maintenance occur. The well-being of California communities and our very lives depend on it.”
Under existing law, utilities decide what trees should be trimmed or removed to comply with standards set by the California Public Utilities Commission. However, in numerous instances in recent years, wildfire investigations have determined vegetation was not adequately cleared from lines and was the cause of destructive fires.
Senate Bill 247 would require Cal Fire to direct utilities on trees and vegetation to be removed and later inspect the work, ensuring it meets requirements. Utilities would have to correct any issues identified by Cal Fire in a timely manner. Separate provisions in the bill would prohibit utilities from diverting maintenance revenue to other purposes and require the utilities to cover the cost of the work performed by Cal Fire.
The bill was amended Thursday and will be set for its first policy committee hearing in the coming weeks. It is one of four wildfire or disaster-related bills Sen. Dodd has introduced so far this year.
"The public needs to know that there is real, independent oversight, not just someone in an office reviewing paperwork submitted by utilities," said Sen. Dodd. "This bill will help prevent future wildfires and ultimately reduce costs for ratepayers."
Joint Hearing Examined the Future of Development in California’s Most Fire Prone Regions
This week, a joint hearing of the Senate Governance & Finance Committee and the Senate Natural Resources & Water Committee reviewed residential development in some of the Golden State’s most fire prone regions and how state and local governments can keep residents safe in communities that are within the Wildland Urban Interface. California has faced an unprecedented series of mega-wildland fires over the past decade – some of the most destructive and deadly in American history.
The hearing, led by Senators Henry Stern and Mike McGuire, Chair of the Senate Natural Resources & Water Committee and the Senate Governance & Finance Committee, respectively, titled “Living Resiliently in the New Abnormal: The Future of Development in California’s Most Fire Prone Regions”
“The complete devastation of communities across our state from the worst wildland fires in California’s history is forcing us to take a closer look at policies for development and land use planning in high fire prone areas,” Senator McGuire said. “We’re grateful to be partnering with Senator Stern to bring some of the top experts in the Western United States together to have the difficult conversations about development in the era of mega wildland fires.”
“In this new and destructive abnormal brought by the climate emergency, we have a responsibility to rebuild more resiliently and not repeat the same mistakes over again,” said Senator Stern. “The good news is that we have tools to protect people from deadly wildfires with smarter building standards, safer and cleaner grid technologies like under-grounding, microgrids and clean backup power for water pumps, fire stations and other critical infrastructure, and smarter land use policies where we can limit new growth into the wildland urban interface. I’m grateful to Senator McGuire for his collaboration in this hearing, as his constituents have gone through hell just like we have.”
The hearing examined how local communities can rebuild in the aftermath of fires and how best to improve local planning and development approvals to mitigate wildland fire and fire losses. The hearing also sought an informed perspective on the question of whether local and state governments should do more to regulate future development in fire prone areas or to make developments more fire resilient.
Witnesses who testified at the hearing included:
· Mark Ghilarducci, Director, California Office of Emergency Services
· Bob Fenton, Regional Administrator, FEMA Region 9
· Dr. Max Moritz, Statewide Wildfire Specialist, University of California Cooperative Extension
· Jeff Lambert, Director of Planning, City of Oxnard, Past President, American Planning Association, California Chapter
· Chief Kate Dargan, California State Fire Marshal (Ret.), CALFIRE
· Chief Ken Pimlott, Director (Ret.), CALFIRE
· Scott Lotter, Former Mayor, City of Paradise
· Tim Snellings, Planning Director, Butte County
· Chief Michael McLaughlin, Cosumnes Community Services District Fire Department
· Ty Bailey, California Professional Firefighters, President, Sacramento Area Firefighters, Local 522, Fire Captain, Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District
Governor Newsom Orders a Halt to the Death Penalty in California
Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order this past Wednesday placing a moratorium on the death penalty in California. The executive order also calls for withdrawing California’s lethal injection protocols and immediately closing the execution chamber at San Quentin State Prison. The order does not provide for the release of any individual from prison or otherwise alter any current conviction or sentence.
“The intentional killing of another person is wrong and as Governor, I will not oversee the execution of any individual,” said Governor Newsom. “Our death penalty system has been, by all measures, a failure. It has discriminated against defendants who are mentally ill, black and brown, or can’t afford expensive legal representation. It has provided no public safety benefit or value as a deterrent. It has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars. Most of all, the death penalty is absolute. It's irreversible and irreparable in the event of human error."
According to the Governor’s press release, there are currently 737 people on death row in California. California apparently has the largest death row population in the Western Hemisphere -- one in four people on death row in the United States are in California.
In the Governor’s opinion, the death penalty is unevenly and unfairly applied to people of color, people with mental disabilities, and people who cannot afford costly legal representation. His office argues more than six in 10 people on California’s death row are people of color. A 2005 study found those convicted of killing whites were more than three times as likely to be sentenced to death as those convicted of killing blacks and more than four times as likely as those convicted of killing Latinos. The Governor asserts that at least 18 of the 25 people executed in the U.S. in 2018 had one or more of the following impairments: significant evidence of mental illness; evidence of brain injury, developmental brain damage, or an IQ in the intellectually disabled range; chronic serious childhood trauma, neglect, and/or abuse.
Further, the Governor contends innocent people have been sentenced to death in California. His statistics show since 1973, 164 condemned prisoners nationwide, including five in California, have been freed from death row after they were found to have been wrongfully convicted. No person has been executed since 2006 because California’s execution protocols have not been lawful. Yet today, 25 California death row inmates have exhausted all their state and federal appeals and could be eligible for an execution date.
Since 1978, California has spent $5 billion on a death penalty system that has executed 13 people. Three states -- Oregon, Colorado and Pennsylvania -- have Governor-imposed moratoria on the death penalty; and in 2018, the Washington State Supreme Court struck down the death penalty as unconstitutional and “racially biased.”
A copy of the executive order signed Wednesday can be found here.