Update, 5:02 p.m., Friday:

A package of landmark housing legislation is on its way to the desk of Governor Jerry Brown, after receiving final passage in the State Senate.

After a dramatic vote in the Assembly on Thursday night, bills to fund housing construction and streamline development rules received easier passage in the Senate.

“In my mind, this is a really historic day,” said Senator Toni Atkins, D-San Diego. “Together, we are lifting many of our residents out of poverty.”

Governor Brown supports Senate Bills 2, 3, and 35, and is expected to sign the legislation.

Senators had already approved earlier versions of the bills earlier this year.

Once again, moderate Democrats Steve Glazer, D-Orrinda, and Josh Newman, D-Fullerton voted in favor of a controversial real estate fee in SB 2 that will create new funding for affordable housing.

Senate Bill 3, a $4 billion affordable housing bond, passed with 30 votes. It will appear on the November 2018 statewide ballot if signed by Brown.

All Republicans opposed the fee in SB 2, which would be paid by homeowners on transactions like a mortgage refinance.

Senator John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, said SB 2 is “taxing those who are having a tough time because they can’t afford down payment.”

Instead, many Republicans said the state should be focused on eliminating roadblocks to housing development.

That led four GOP members to support Senate Bill 35, which makes it harder for cities to block new housing if they had failed to meet regional goals for approving developments. Despite losing seven Democrats, the measure passed on a 23-14 vote.

Original Post:
A package of bills representing the Legislature’s most significant push in years to address California’s housing crisis overcame its largest hurdle to date, passing the State Assembly on Thursday night. But it didn’t come without suspense.

The bills earmark billions of dollars for home construction, and enact rules making it harder for local governments to block new developments, with the overarching goal of increasing housing stock in the state.

“We are once again showing that here in California we are stepping up and getting the job done,” said Speaker Anthony Rendon, ( D-Lakewood).

In a late night vote, the Assembly approved six housing measures, including the three most high-profile bills: Senate Bill 3, a $4 billion bond measure, Senate Bill 2, a new permanent source of affordable housing, and Senate Bill 35, legislation that makes it harder for local governments to block housing developments.

SB 2 would provide hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding for housing through a $75 fee on real estate transactions, such as those filed in a mortgage refinance, or the redemption of a foreclosed home. The fee would be capped at a total of $225.

“One thing we all share at this time is that we are living in the worst housing crisis that our state has ever experienced,” said David Chiu, (D-San Francisco) chair of the Assembly Housing Committee. “SB 2 is at the heart of what we need to do.”

The vote on SB 2 provided most of the night’s drama.

Like SB 3, the proposed fee required a two-thirds vote in the Assembly, meaning Democrats could not afford to lose any votes if Republicans unified in opposition.

That calculation changed during floor debate, when San Diego Republican Brian Maienschein announced he would support the measure.

Maienschein, the former San Diego commissioner on homelessness, mentioned the issue of Californians living on the street as his motivation for voting in favor. Half of the money collected from SB 2 in its first year would go towards assisting Californians who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness.

“I do feel compelled to act,” he said. “I wish there was something different to be done, and to do nothing to me isn’t an option.”

A homeless man returns to his encampment on May 1, 2017 in Los Angeles.
A homeless man returns to his encampment on May 1, 2017 in Los Angeles. (David McNew/Getty Images)

But the bill wasn’t out of the woods yet. After debate over the measure ended, three Democrats remained unconvinced.

Democrats Sabrina Cervantes of Riverside, Adrin Nazarian of the San Fernando Valley and Marc Levine of Marin refrained from voting for the fee hike.

Cervantes is a swing-district Democrat who also didn’t vote on July’s cap-and-trade extension.

Levine voiced his opposition to the real estate fee during the summer recess, instead calling for California corporations to shoulder a tax increase to pay for housing.

After holding out for almost an hour — and paying a visit to Speaker Rendon’s office — Levine and Nazarian both relented and voted for the measure.

Rendon and Levine said no side deals were exchanged for their ‘aye’ votes.

“What I’m most concerned about is that the work continues,” Levine told KQED after the vote. “That we’re trying to find flexible policies that help all Californians in all communities plan for the housing we desperately need.”

Getting 54 votes on SB 2 was the culmination of a furious four weeks of negotiating and vote whipping after the Legislature returned from recess in August.

The bill carried the distinct disadvantage of being a legislative caboose on a train with several tough supermajority votes.

In just the last five months, moderate Democrats had been asked to support a road repair bill that raises the gasoline tax and an extension of the state’s cap-and-trade system that will likely increase fuel prices as well.

The third request on moderates, many of whom represent swing districts, came with little time left in the legislative year. That forced SB 2 to compete for public attention with the usual logjam of bills jockeying for passage before Friday’s end-of-year deadline.

Lawmakers pushing the housing fix also had to do without much public help from Gov. Jerry Brown.

Brown, who made fiery, meme-generating speeches in the final days before successful votes on the road repair and cap-and-trade bills, didn’t make a similar rally for the housing bills.

After the vote, Brown did send out a tweet of approval for the bills, which he supports, and is expected to sign if they pass the Senate.

Jerry Brown on Twitter

There’s no place like home. #SB2 #SB35

Senate Bill 2 was able to gain support through a series of tweaks; more money was added for the homeless, and a greater share of funds will be directed to local government.

Additionally, language was added to a separate bill to create a hardship exemption for some low-income Californians. Levine said this provision was critical to gaining his support for SB 2.

The Assembly also passed a separate funding measure, SB 3, a $4 billion housing bond that will go before voters in November of 2018, if given final approval by the Senate and signed by the governor.

The bond passed the Assembly on a 54-20 vote, with Republicans Maienschein and Catharine Baker (R-Dublin) voting in favor.

For the most part, Republicans shied away from supporting the bonds and fees, instead arguing that the elimination of regulatory roadblocks would spur more development.

“We’re not talking about zoning,” said Devon Mathis (R-Visalia). “We’re talking about throwing more money at it.”

Legislation to ease restrictions on development also sailed to passage on Thursday night, needing only a majority vote.

The key streamlining measure was Senate Bill 35, which would bypass certain local reviews for developments in cities that have fallen behind on regional housing goals.

Opponents from both parties worried the bill would remove local control from important planning decisions.

“I might have agreed with [that argument] five years ago or ten years ago,” said Laura Friedman (D-Glendale). “But we’re in a really different climate right now. We’re in a crisis, in a housing crisis,” she said before voting for it.

The measures now head back to the State Senate for passage on Friday, the last day in the Legislature before a recess until the new year.

KQED’s Scott Shafer contributed to this report.

Housing Bill Package Passes Legislature, Goes to Gov. Brown 15 September,2017Guy Marzorati

Author

Guy Marzorati

Guy Marzorati is a reporter and producer for KQED News, the California Report and KQED’s California Politics and Government Desk. Guy joined KQED in 2013. He grew up in New York and graduated from Santa Clara University. Email: GMarzorati@KQED.org

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