By Lucy Dunn, Jeff Montejano and Tracy Hernandez
Special to California Construction News
Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state housing crisis in 2019, calling for 3.5 million new homes to meet the state’s booming economy.
California business organizations joined with the Building Industry Association of Southern California, Orange County Business Council, and BizFed LA in supporting that declaration and call to action.
Lack of housing supply in all price ranges is the underlying driver increasing homelessness, reducing housing affordability, higher rents, longer commutes, a dying middle class and, without question, the “diversity, equity and inclusion” issue of our generation: especially when Black and Latino communities have the lowest homeownership rates since the 1930’s.
The legislature has dithered around the edges on the issue with laws purporting to address housing supply, but the tale of the tape is in the actual building permits issued in 2021. We’re not making progress moving forward and we’ve actually continued to decline in overall housing production throughout California. There is a huge deficit where we cannot make up for lost time and production.
Why is this?
Thomas Edison once said, “A good intention, with a bad approach, often leads to a poor result.” Here’s a perfect example how legislators can derail efforts to end California’s dire housing crisis by just piling on one more regulation.
Authored by state Sen. Mike McGuire, D- Healdsburg, Senate Bill 12 has been touted as necessary to protect residents and homes from future California wildfires. In part, SB 12 would prohibit cities and counties from approving new housing developments unless they are determined to be adequately protected from wildfires under a myriad of new regulations set forth by various state agencies. While the goal of protecting residents and their homes from wildfires is certainly good, the approach laid out in SB 12 is fraught with problems.
In its current form, SB 12 opens the door to an avalanche of onerous, unnecessary regulations that stifle new housing construction throughout the state. Confoundingly, SB 12 gives new and far-reaching regulatory power over proposed housing developments and local planning to an obscure state agency known as the California Office of Planning and Research.
SB 12 ignores the fact that for decades, California homebuilders have been effective in protecting homes from wildfires. This is due to the implementation of existing building regulations, combined with the meticulous design that goes into new development and master-planned communities.
In 2003, the master-planned community of Stevenson Ranch in Los Angeles County saw zero homes lost during the Simi Fire, an achievement that would become a feature story in the New York Times. In 2008, the community of Casino Ridge in Orange County was caught in the middle of the devastating Freeway Complex Fire. However, because of the wildfire mitigation measures that were in place, no homes were lost. In 2020, after 60,000 folks were evacuated from the Silverado Fire in Orange County, homes, schools and lives were saved because of excellent planning, updated building codes, good roads, and excellent fire response.
As written, SB 12 would allow that state agency to essentially eliminate the opportunity to build new and safe housing communities. Considering the magnitude of California’s housing shortage, the state’s housing policy is far too important to give such overreaching authority to a single governmental agency out of touch with local communities’ needs. This is just another obstacle among many that we must remove before we resume homebuilding.
SB 12 also undermines the state’s new regional housing plan for Southern California, which requires local municipalities to collectively zone for over 1.3 million new homes by the end of the decade. By eliminating the potential to build a massive number of desperately needed new homes, the state’s housing mandates would simply become infeasible.
Certainly, we support saving lives and property. Our opposition to this bill is focused solely on addressing SB 12’s bureaucratic overreach. Reasonable amendments to SB 12 have been presented to the bill’s author based on input from numerous private and public sector stakeholders, including Southern California businesses, universities, cities, and homebuilders.
Lucy Dunn is president and CEO of OCBC, Orange County’s Voice of Business. Jeff Montejano is CEO of the Building Industry Association of Southern California. Tracy Hernandez is the founding CEO of BizFed LA, a united federation of diverse business associations.