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Regional housing plan splits elected leaders

Casa Compact aims to promote new housing while overriding local authority

A sweeping package of proposals to preserve and expand the Bay Area's housing stock by passing new renter protections, loosening zoning restrictions and expediting the approval process for residential developments is making its way to the state Legislature despite a flurry of opposition from local leaders, many of whom decry the proposed policies as unfair, anti-democratic and potentially counterproductive.

Known as the "Casa Compact," the plan was hashed out over an 18-month period by a committee created by the regional agencies Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), which focus on housing and transportation policies. The Casa Steering Committee, whose roster includes area council members, developers, planners, union leaders and representatives from large employers such as Google, Facebook and Genentech, voted unanimously on Dec. 12 to approve the new document. The MTC board followed suit with its own approval, by an 11-4 vote, on Dec. 19. The ABAG executive board is expected to follow suit shortly.

Proponents of the plan are describing it as a 15-year "emergency policy package" for confronting the Bay Area's housing crisis. The preamble to the document notes that since 2010, the Bay Area has added 722,000 jobs but constructed only 106,000 housing units, a discrepancy that has caused housing prices to go through the roof, spurred more homelessness and exacerbated the transportation crisis by forcing more employees to commute from other regions.

The Casa Compact includes 10 elements that aim to address these challenges but that, in doing so, would impose policies that have already proven to be highly contentious or unpopular at the local level. These include a policy requiring landlords to cite "just causes" for eviction and to provide relocation assistance to tenants who experience no-fault evictions, such as when the property owner wants to move in, the unit is deemed unsafe or it is removed from the rental market. Another element calls for capping annual rent increases at 5 percent plus the consumer price index. A third would guarantee free legal counsel and emergency rent assistance to low-income tenants.

Other elements focus on new housing. One calls for requiring automatic approval of accessory-dwelling units (also known as in-law or granny units) in all residential zones. Another would institute "minimum zoning" within a quarter mile of rail stations and ferry terminals, which would allow residential developments up to 55 feet tall (or 75 feet tall if they obtain density bonuses). In areas within half mile of bus stops, the new law would allow for residential buildings up to 36 feet tall. In both cases, the element makes an exception for "sensitive communities," those made up predominantly of low-income residents who face a greater threat of displacement from the up-zoning policies. These communities would be granted a three-year deferral period so that they can plan for the proposed growth.

The compact also calls for an expedited approval process for housing projects that comply with zoning, with exemptions from the California Environmental Quality Act and a limit of one year and three hearings before approval.

Steve Heminger, executive director of MTC and ABAG, told the Casa Steering Committee last month that these policies are "trying to tune up the housing-production delivery machine, which I think it's fair to say is leaking plenty of oil these days and is not producing with sufficient speed, with sufficient certainty, the kind of new housing stock that we need."

The compact also includes two elements pertaining to funding, one calling for $1.5 billion in annual revenues to support the Casa Compact through some combination of contributions from taxpayers, developers, employers, property owners and local governments. (It does not proscribe a particular financing method but creates a menu of options.) Another would establish a new entity called the Regional Housing Enterprise to levy fees, pursue new taxes, disburse funds and oversee new housing programs.

The compact does not, in itself, establish these policies. But by approving it, members of the Casa Committee hope the state Legislature would take the document and pass legislation that implements some, if not all, of its suggestions.

In voting to approve the compact on Dec. 12, Steering Committee members characterized it as a necessary, if imperfect, compromise. Michael Covarrubias, president of TMG and one of the chairs of the Casa committee, said the elements in the compact reflect proposals that, for the most part, had already been proposed but that failed to advance in the past year.

An effort to strengthen rent control fizzled when voters opted in November not to repeal Costa-Hawkins, the state law that limits cities' powers to impose rent-control. Legislation pertaining to just-cause evictions and accessory-dwelling units similarly failed to advance in the last session, while Scott Wiener's proposed Senate Bill 827 got "beat up."

"All these children have been waylaid by the side of the road," Covarrubias said. "So what we said was, 'If we'd put them all together and we don't let them break apart and we give them to the Legislature, which is the body that will take it down the freeway, there is a shot.'"

Several committee members expressed reservations about particular elements, though none actually opposed the compact. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf suggested that "sensitive areas" (including large parts of Oakland) be given more time and resources to plan adequately. Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese said he was concerned about the prospect of "revenue displacement," the flow of local revenues to regional sources. He was less concerned about the issue of local regulatory control, which he called "pretty minor."

Dave Regan, president of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, went a step further and made a case for more top-down regulation.

"The housing situation in California is a massive public policy failure," Regan said at the Dec. 12 meeting. "All of these comments about how we need more 'democracy' -- that's what provided this problem. And saying we need years more of this is going to make it more intractable, not less intractable, because every day there are more people in tents."

The compact has won the support of some elected leaders, including Schaaf, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and San Francisco Mayor London Breed (all three sat on the Casa Steering Committee). Yet the push for more state regulations has also galvanized pockets of oppositions, with many mayors of smaller cities and towns submitting letters that bemoan their own lack of involvement in the discussion. By imposing these policies, critics maintain, the package of laws threatens to upend existing efforts by cities to promote housing.

Palo Alto Councilwoman Liz Kniss, a vocal housing advocate who served as mayor in 2018, was among those who urged the MTC not to endorse the Casa Compact.

"Unfortunately, adhering to a Casa Compact, created without our city's involvement, would circumvent this public, community process," Kniss' letter states. "Additionally, the compact does not appear to take into consideration the local land use laws of each Bay Area city, the plans each city has in place to meet its housing needs in the near future, or the housing needs of the residents in each city."

She is hardly alone. In a letter, Sunnyvale Mayor Glenn Hendricks slammed the compact's "one size fits all policy" and took issue with the document's proposed funding strategies, particularly its call for diverting 20 percent of property tax growth across the region, a policy that he argued would "result in significant cuts to core services in every Bay Area city." A letter from Cupertino complained about "minimal outreach to local governments" and "pre-emption of local control over zoning regulations, inclusionary requirements and design review."

In Los Altos, the council took a stand against the compact, arguing that its funding strategies are "not feasible" and that it "overstates the benefits of transit-oriented development and the ability of transit systems to truly accommodate the increased density."

Anita Enander, a member of the Los Altos City Council, spoke out against the compact at the Dec. 12 meeting of the Casa Steering Committee. She called the package of proposals a "massive Band-Aid that doesn't address root causes" and an affront to local control.

"If you think local governments will welcome being relieved of having to deal with housing proposals, if you think we want a mandated ministerial approval process with setbacks and height limits and incentives mandated by law, you are wrong," Enander said. "The people elected us to make that decision. It's our job."

Jeannie Bruins, a Los Altos councilwoman who represents north Santa Clara County cities on the MTC, was part of the dissenting minority. The biggest concerns that she's been hearing from the cities, she said, pertained to insufficient outreach and funding. Many believe money will flow from their governments to the three largest Bay Area cities, she said.

She also noted that some of the policies that the Steering Committee had embraced are proving less popular at the local level, as evidenced by the 2018 election in which several council members who supported aggressive pro-housing policies (including Lenny Siegel in Mountain View and Cory Wolbach in Palo Alto) were voted out.

"We all want to be part of the solution, but what we ended up with was that anybody who had any inkling for supporting housing or for supporting trying to deal with and addressing homelessness ... those are incumbents who lost their seats," Bruins said. "The time to engage the cities is today, while you still have people sitting on councils who really want to be part of the solution, before you have those people replaced by people who are more in line with the NIMBYs."

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Comments

19 people like this
Posted by The Successful Businessman
a resident of Whisman Station
on Jan 17, 2019 at 10:41 am

The Successful Businessman is a registered user.

The best solution to solving the Bay Area housing problem is to take the employment elsewhere--out of state. Bay Area cities have the power to solve this problem rather quickly; stop approving million square foot office buildings everywhere! Rather than trying to solve this problem by creating even more housing, traffic congestion and infrastructure stress, the state legislature should simply issue a moratorium on commercial office building in the state until there is housing equilibrium for the existing employees and people living here. We don't need more jobs and people in this state! And mass transit will NEVER be an effective way to move people around the Bay Area. This isn't NYC.


24 people like this
Posted by Agreed
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jan 17, 2019 at 10:53 am

I absolutely agree with the above assessment. This is a geographical issue - there is simply no more physical room to build housing short of turning the bay area into another Tokyo or Hong Kong with towering high rises.


3 people like this
Posted by The Business Man
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 17, 2019 at 11:16 am

The Business Man is a registered user.

My “Humble” observation:

City and County planning regarding housing is not workable. For the most important reason, every customer in the state of California should have EQUAL treatment and housing policies, it does not matter where you are. In fact the State and U.S. Constitution requires that equal protection of laws are required.

The PROOF that the Counties and Cities cannot provide effective planning because most are staffed with unqualified professionals in those positions.

The PROOF is that the ASSUMPTION that a city would provide equivalent jobs to housing growth has been proven WRONG.

The PROOF is that these groups are not able to garner the resources themselves to resolve the problem of the critical housing shortage of California.

SIMPLY put, the STATE is ESTABISHING CRITICAL REGULATIONS necessary to balance to rights of the tenants versus the powers of landlords given the CRITICAL SHORTAGE of housing is NOT the fault of the tenants. The LANDLORDS and HOUSING INDUSTRY has taken advantage of the shortage to ARBITRAGE the market.

THE INDUSTRY CAN PREVENT THE ONCOMING TSUNAMI OF LAWS BY CORRECTING ITSELF NOW.


20 people like this
Posted by Robyn
a resident of another community
on Jan 17, 2019 at 2:52 pm

Absent from the groups on the committee were current homeowners.
The social experiment to force people into mass transit has failed. Stop trying to see how many sardines you can fit into a can. Our quality of life has declined and costs, fees and taxes have gone up in all sectors. There is no economy of scale in government.

We have people living in million dollar houses standing in the bread line at local churches. Many families suffer food insecurity.
Build elsewhere!


5 people like this
Posted by Renter
a resident of North Whisman
on Jan 17, 2019 at 3:03 pm

We should do all of the above and then some!

1 - Move jobs out of California ("take the employment elsewhere" as shared by The Successful Businessman)
2 - Moratorium on ALL building (both commercial and residential)

and then take things one step further

3 - Encourage the mega-employers such as Google, Apple, Facebook, Oracle, etc. to move their HQ elsewhere. (ties into #1 above)
4 - Moratorium on new vehicle registrations. The roads are congested enough, if we don't have room for more housing, we DEFINITELY don't have room for more cars

A lot of this is a population issue. If we can limit the population growth of California (including limiting family size), then we can reach the housing/population ideals shared by the commenters here.


5 people like this
Posted by Rossta
a resident of Waverly Park
on Jan 17, 2019 at 3:43 pm

Rossta is a registered user.

The climate forecast for California is that we will be drier in the future years. We already do not have sufficient water resources for the people and crops we have today. Expanding our population further beyond our available resources is short sighted at best and could be disastrous. It is also a bad investment.


8 people like this
Posted by Alex M
a resident of Willowgate
on Jan 17, 2019 at 3:47 pm

Excluding businesses from Proposition 13, and having them pay market-rate property taxes, would result in "taking employment elsewhere" in fairly short order, I think.


9 people like this
Posted by MV Renter
a resident of Shoreline West
on Jan 17, 2019 at 4:11 pm

There are issues and facts and figures that I don't have enough knowledge or context of in order to weigh in properly.

But I would make one comment: Any building (commercial or residential) without regard for our infrastructure is unwise to the point of foolish.

- The construction vehicles have torn up our roads. Potholes everywhere.
- Traffic worsens all the time.
- Our public utilities can't keep apace: the people approving projects just says "not my problem" and punts it to the State and the utilities when power infrastructure is insufficient, or a pole takes down the Internet or what have you.

I can't say "build" or "don't build". I'm a renter. I can't afford a home, so I can't pretend to understand a homeowner's dilemmas. Likewise, I have not done real research as to what is done with the tax revenue brought in by the big businesses (which is the reason the commercial is so readily approved). I bet I wouldn't like it if I knew.

But I can say, we're building faster than we have infrastructure which is reliable and safe for everyone. Traffic snarls and collisions from pothole (or pothole avoidance) or too much load in a powerline (eg. PG&E and SoCal Edison) makes it quite clear to me that we're going too far too fast.


10 people like this
Posted by Opportunity
a resident of Rex Manor
on Jan 17, 2019 at 7:11 pm

I've been having this "debate" with friends for several years now. There are so many towns/cities in the Midwest that aren't taxed for natural resources, have very low cost of living and could use strong business opportunities. I say that if the Googles, Facebooks etc were to open offices in these locations people would flood there, particularly all the 1st generations coming from disadvantageous places where pretty much anything here is a dream. And I don't say that from elitism, I say it based on reality. I'm from the Midwest, born and raised there, there are MANY people who love living there. I've talked to friends here who have recently come for jobs who say they would MUCH rather live somewhere less expensive, they have no ties to CA and would be happy to live elsewhere.

But we all know why this will never happen. These companies are systematically socially engineering lifestyles and our local governments are not only beholden to them, but dependent on their tax revenues. These very governments that propose to be "for the people" couldn't be further from that. It's shameful. I can only hope that people start wakwill he up and realize how they're being manipulated.


25 people like this
Posted by Peace Out
a resident of Bailey Park
on Jan 17, 2019 at 7:41 pm


I was born and raised here, in the Bay Area, and have lived in Mountain View for over 25 years...and because, imho, things have become untenable here, I will be relocating to a more hospitable location - just over the state line - in the very near future. I saw this train coming several years ago and purchased property, as a hedge...which will now be utilized. Happily. No state income tax, either.

I’m looking forward to not having the state of California picking my pocket for the rest of my life.

You all have fun with what’s coming...I don’t think it’s gonna be pretty.

Peace out.


4 people like this
Posted by LOL
a resident of Bailey Park
on Jan 17, 2019 at 7:51 pm

[post removed, user has been banned for repeated violations of terms of use]


9 people like this
Posted by Marcell O
a resident of Slater
on Jan 17, 2019 at 11:34 pm

> I absolutely agree with the above assessment. This is a geographical issue - there is simply no more physical room to build housing short of turning the bay area into another Tokyo or Hong Kong with towering high rises.

First, Tokyo and Hong Kong are great cities. I recently returned from a trip to Tokyo, and it was amazing. There is excellent public transit and many great restaurants and bars.

Second, this is absurd. Drive up and down 280 for a bit. It's trees everywhere. There is lots and lots of land in the bay area for more housing. We just need to build it.


2 people like this
Posted by Wordsmith
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2019 at 10:32 am

Author: I believe that you meant "prescribe" in the article rather than "proscribe" which is a word that I've never seen anyone but lawyers use.


10 people like this
Posted by William Hitchens
a resident of Waverly Park
on Jan 18, 2019 at 5:13 pm

William Hitchens is a registered user.

Cities have their own unique residents, voters, and governments chosen by CITY voters. Why should any city, particularly its property owners and businesses, be forced to submit to the mandates of an ideologically biased Socialist/Populist "Bay Area Management District", or even an equally biased Socialist/Populist "County Management District", without voter approval in each city???

This is ignorant Socialism/Populism ENVY at work. Cities should be allowed to set their own population density, zoning, and construction regulations. We live in cities and have invested our lives and our savings here. It is OUR DUTY to regulate our lives, and not that of external enemies.

BTW, I'm not a tRUMPite Fascist. I want to see Fascist like him destroyed. I'm a Moderate Independent Libertarian who believes that OUR property rights are far more important than than any stupid or desperate idiots may have "elected" their Socialist/Populist morons. And that includes Mountain View's "city council" --- if you can call it that.


Like this comment
Posted by The Business Man
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2019 at 8:25 pm

The Business Man is a registered user.

In response to William Hitchens you said:

“Cities have their own unique residents, voters, and governments chosen by CITY voters. Why should any city, particularly its property owners and businesses, be forced to submit to the mandates of an ideologically biased Socialist/Populist "Bay Area Management District", or even an equally biased Socialist/Populist "County Management District", without voter approval in each city??? “

Simply put, Cities are interdependent. If you want to promote that mentality, than EVERY City will need to be self-sufficient. The city should be managed as if they are in a dome. The fact is as I described above, the Cities are not capable of becoming self-sufficient. So you cannot be realistic regarding this point of view. You said:

“This is ignorant Socialism/Populism ENVY at work. Cities should be allowed to set their own population density, zoning, and construction regulations. We live in cities and have invested our lives and our savings here. It is OUR DUTY to regulate our lives, and not that of external enemies. “

Other Cities are not enemies, they are our interdependent partners. Why did you use this kind of description? You said:

“BTW, I'm not a tRUMPite Fascist. I want to see Fascist like him destroyed. I'm a Moderate Independent Libertarian who believes that OUR property rights are far more important than than any stupid or desperate idiots may have "elected" their Socialist/Populist morons. And that includes Mountain View's "city council" --- if you can call it that.”

Just understand that the U.S. Constitution allows for private land ownership, but in reality all land is public resources under the constitution. At any time if the government wanted to allocate any land, it may do so via emanate domain. And only the land value is constitutionally required to be compensated and not the structures.

There has been an “ideology” of those who believe in property rights are superior to any other rights. Just try to understand that this is not reality. Look at many cases and practices of both the state and federal government. This is just reality.


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