A: The major issues the committee sought to address this year were the implementation of Proposition 1C (the housing bond); “green building” or “sustainable building” standards; “Funding for local housing trusts; guaranteed funding for senior housing; and issues related to density bonus reform.
Implementation of Prop. 1C has been the major work of the committee for 2007. About half of the $2.85 billion is available and currently being allocated through the various existing programs administered by the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).
The more challenging task has been reaching an agreement on creating new programs for the other half [of the funding]. For the most part, there is agreement that funds under the Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) program should indeed be for construction of projects that include affordable housing. So the allocation of $300 million for TOD is pretty much taken care of.
The allocation of $200 million for urban, suburban and rural parks is still under consideration by the State Legislature. The Assembly agreed that HCD should allocate based on the Workforce Housing Reward Program as funded under Prop. 46 – that is to reward communities that do a better than average job of approving applications to build affordable housing. That proposal, AB 1252 (Caballero), is currently under consideration in the Senate.
Next is the $850 million for infill incentives. At this point there are two proposals: AB 1053 (Núñez-Laird) to which I am a co-author, and SB 46 (Perata). The two proposals are similar in many respects and different in others. Namely, the Assembly version directs funds into several different pots while SB 46 directs funds to only two.
Both bills are on their way to the Appropriations Committees in each house. At some point, the two bills will have to be reconciled and I suspect that will happen before the measures are taken up by the Appropriations Committees. There is also a possibility that a single bill emerges as a trailer bill to the pending state budget.
Finally, there is the Innovation Fund. SB 586 by Sen. Dutton is the measure that seeks to implement that portion. The Assembly Committee on Housing & Community Development has not had a chance to review that portion, but will do so later this summer. The good news is that Sen. Dutton has agreed to include my proposal to fund local affordable housing trust funds in his bill. I was very pleased to see that he agreed to that and I look forward to hearing his bill.
Another of my major goals this year was to "green the bond.” I want to encourage the allocation of bond funds to projects that use sustainable building methods. I introduced AB 1460 which would require that the same scoring for sustainable building methods, used for awarding tax credits shall be used for scoring applications to the Multifamily Housing Program.
Local Housing Trusts
Prop. 46 included funding for local affordable housing trust funds. For some reason, Prop. 1C did not include a specific line item for such funds. Initially, I introduced AB 1493 to direct a portion of the funds in the newly created Innovation Fund to be used for local trusts. As I mentioned earlier, Sen. Dutton has agreed to include my proposal in SB 586, so if that bill successfully makes it to Gov. Schwarzenegger’s desk and is signed [into law], cities will have access to funds which may be used to finance innovative local housing programs.
On the topic of senior housing, I introduced legislation this year to assure that funds allocated by HCD for rental housing assistance are spent for dedicated senior housing in the same proportion that low-income seniors are reflected in the overall population. As the overall population ages, I want to make sure that seniors receive their fair share of public funding for affordable housing.
Over the past several years, numerous changes have been made to density bonus law that seem to favor market rate development over local development standards, while reducing the number of affordable units that are required to be built.
Given the complexity of the issue and the pressing need to focus on getting the Prop. 1C details negotiated, I decided to hold AB 1449, my bill on this issue, for a year. My staff and I have been working with the staff and chair of the Assembly Committee on Local Government (Assembly Member Anna Caballero) on a more detailed proposal for us to consider this fall. The density bonus issue needs to be addressed, as it has created much confusion for local planning directors.
Q: Housing prices remain very high in the San Diego area. In your 20-year career as an educator in San Diego, have you noticed a trend of young people moving out of the area because of housing prices? Either way, what are some of the things you’d like to see worked on in the area of workforce housing, particularly for young people just entering the workforce?
A: We’re seeing people not be able to live in communities where they grew up for few reasons, including the cost. We’re also seeing the aging senior population that is happy staying where they are. There are communities where seniors just aren’t leaving. They like the community they live in and their neighbors and feel like why should they go somewhere new to start over.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about AB 927 and AB 1460, and the goal you’re trying to accomplish with each?
A: AB 927 was heard in Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday, July 16, and was moved forward. It now goes to the Senate Floor for a vote. The bill is to encourage the California Department of Housing and Community Development to have a proportionate amount of money invested into affordable senior housing. They maintain they are doing that, but I respond to that by saying “good work,” but [they need to] keep it up.
AB 1460 would give same scoring for building methods in multi-family housing in regard to tax credits. There is a great project in Poway that had this measure been in effect, they would have qualified for tax credits. They looked for ways to conserve water and energy, and efficient landscape. We need to give developers more incentives to look for green and sustainable building design elements.
Q: There is a big push these days toward more infill. Yet those projects affect the folks who are already living in these neighborhoods. Sometimes this affects low-income residents disproportionately. How do we do more of the right thing without upsetting the existing fabric of our communities?
A: We need better community-based planning. In San Diego, we have a history there since the 1960s of active city council and planning groups. Not sure how active planning groups are in other parts of state, but existing neighborhoods need to have a bigger say. I look at it from a basic starting point. What do neighbors think about a project? How do they comment on it? That’s the only way it’ll be successful is if community believes in it and in their future.
We are also facing interesting demographic changes. What’s that mean for density – how can we put affordable housing into communities where now there might be some very large shopping centers? We have to do it through mixed-use [development].
Another technique is condominium conversions. Taking former rental apartments and turning them into for-sale condos. While encouraging homeownership is a laudable policy, we need to be cautious about losing our rental housing stock.
Determining that balance is probably best made by policy makers at the local level who know what the needs are of the local community. I would encourage a policy that links conversion of rental housing to a plan where rental housing is being simultaneously replaced.
The local permitting process is another issue. Local governments need to be responsive to the developers that are trying to get units built, particularly affordable units. Undue delays in the permit approval process can result in unnecessary costs. However, as in the context of streamlining the zoning process, we need to encourage local planning offices to proceed thoughtfully.
The committee I chair is called Housing and Community Development. In addition to pursing funding for and policies that encourage affordable housing development, I also take great care in setting policy that encourages livable communities. By that I mean, communities where residents can safely walk their neighborhoods, where there is room for tree canopies, with appropriate mixed uses and mixes of income.
Q: You sat on the committee that decided to hold SB 303 and make it a two year bill. Many characterized that as a “sprawl bill.” Can you speak about balancing the need for housing with the needs of the environment and climate change?
A: I didn’t like the fact that several previous laws have tried to put [planning] requirements into play. And to have [SB 303] come on the heels of that, before local governments worked out [how to implement] recent legislation … it is [difficult] to comply with.
We needed to give local governments a little breathing space before they get a brand new law that would speed up [the] planning process, especially with the housing element. If you encourage local governments to do their housing element early [and make it] easier to zone property, it may unintentionally cause sprawl.
Here we are talking about density and infill, and [SB 303] had the potential to push that into outside areas, and that is the opposite of what we wanted. We need to build in the urban core.
I also worried that by having local governments pay to do environmental impact reports (EIRs), you are suddenly shifting large financial burden to locals, when many are struggling as it is. Currently it is the developer that pays for these. So [holding the bill] was partly financial, partly to prevent sprawl, and also to really give locals a chance to comply previous changes in the law.
Q: The housing bond funds (Prop. 1C passed in Nov. 2006) have the potential to affect how California will grow. What do you see as the critical issues driving how these funds should be spent?
A: We started a year ago discussing the bonds and making sure the bonds had green elements as far as sustainability, reducing vehicle miles traveled, getting people to live closer to where work and schools. You need to build towards transit corridors.
Last year, AB 32 dominated a lot of our legislative programs and you need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. So we need to emphasize the reuse of construction materials whenever possible and concentrate on sustainable development. Not just where we locate housing developments, but green building.
Lori Saldaña was re-elected in 2006 to a second term in the California Legislature, representing the state's 76th Assembly District. Her district consists of the central and northern portion of San Diego, including the communities of Clairemont, Bay Park, Pacific Beach, Ocean Beach, Point Loma, Tierra Santa, Serra Mesa, Hillcrest, University Heights, North Park, South Park, Linda Vista, Mission Valley, City Heights, Old Town, Normal Heights, Mission Hills and Downtown San Diego.
Since being elected to the California State Legislature in November 2004, Assembly Member Saldaña was appointed to Leadership as the Assistant Majority Whip, a position she continues to hold. In 2006, she was appointed as chair of the Housing and Community Development Committee and tasked with dispensing voter approved bonds for the state of California in excess of $2.85 billion dollars. Assembly Member Saldaña’s additional assignments include Elections and Redistricting, Local Government, Natural Resources and Veteran’s Affairs Committees. These committee assignments reflect her life long passions for protecting the environment, improving water quality and providing fair affordable housing in California.