A proposal to jumpstart housing construction in California is nearing a vote in the state legislature, and housing advocates say they are working against the clock to convince lawmakers in Sacramento to change some of the fine print in the bill.
The plan, spearheaded by Governor Jerry Brown, would speed up the approval process developers go through before they break ground on apartment complexes. It the past, developers have complained that this process can take years, and has discouraged building in California. Brown proposed this fast-tracking solution to boost housing supply, as residents grapple with rising rents across the state.
But his plan has come under fire from housing advocates who argue that fast-tracking comes with consequences, namely that residents living in neighborhoods impacted by construction would have less time to protest a building or negotiate design changes with a developer.
Brown has offered a trade-off to community groups: developers who benefit from this fast-track provision would need to set aside some affordable housing in each new building. The housing would be designated for lower-income residents who'd pay below-market rate rent.
Community groups are pressing for stronger language. They want the bill to guarantee a specific amount of affordable housing, which would apply to all developers who build under the fast-track provision.
Sande George, a lobbyist for the California Chapter of the American Planning Association, said her group is asking the governor to put a 20 percent affordable housing requirement in the bill, and to set aside $400 million in state funds for affordable housing grants.
But she says scores of other lobbyists and non-profits have different interests, and are also making their cases to the governor this month.
"It's a difficult balancing act," George said. "We're all coming from a different place and want different things from the proposals."
State officials are also soliciting feedback in cities around the state. This week, they hosted two public hearings in Southern California to gather feedback for the governor. At one, in Downtown L.A., many stakeholders, including representatives from the office of Mayor Eric Garcetti, the City of Santa Monica and the City of Los Angeles voiced concerns about the profound affordable housing crisis in Southern California. While many of the attendees said they support a streamlined approval process, they also said the plan doesn't ensure enough affordable housing will get built in the next wave of housing construction.
Ben Metcalf, who directs the state's Housing the Community Development Department, said the meeting was meant to spark a conversation between supporters and potential supporters in L.A., who are eager to weigh-in on the bill's language.
"The bill is going to evolve over the next month and continue to improve," Metcalf said. "We're still working on refining and finalizing many of the details."