Legislative power versus legislative courage

July 17, 2020
T. Keith Gurnee

T. Keith Gurnee


California’s legislature is returning to session on July 27 to consider nine housing bills that will forever change every city, county, town, village and neighborhood for the worse. The force behind these developer-backed bills is Senate Pro Tempore Toni Atkins (San Diego).

Never mind that these bills are an attempt to solve the wrong problem. After all, California doesn’t have a market-rate housing crisis, it has a housing affordability crisis. Yet driven by a false narrative, these bills will give market rate and luxury housing developers a green light to override local zoning and land use requirements while dramatically slashing the legislature’s commitment to affordable housing.

With Democrats controlling 2/3 of the Assembly and Senate, Atkins’ power is nearly absolute. After losing her battle over SB 50 in the Senate last January, she empaneled a special seven-member Senate committee (all Democrats) to write five of the nine harmful housing bills, all of which will be acted upon within the next 40 days.

Atkins even authored SB 1120, just one of the nine bills that deserve to be nixed. Co-authored by Sen. Scott Wiener, SB 1120 would ban single family zoning in California and make such neighborhoods targets for real estate investors like Blackstone to swoop in, buy up existing homes, split the properties into two lots as small as 1,200 square feet, then build two homes on each new lot for a total of four units on what was one lot. Then they can build up to two additional dwelling units on each new lot as allowed by local ordinances. That’s as many as eight units where one home once stood, all without yards, without affordability requirements, and without any parking if within one-half mile of a bus stop.

Senate Pro Tempore Atkins enjoys the significant powers to make all legislative committee assignments, to set staff budgets for every State Senator, and even to assign all office spaces to legislators. Any law makers who would dare go against her wishes would likely find themselves serving in unimportant committees and banished to the least desirable offices in Sacramento with their staff budgets reduced. Woe be it to any legislator who fails to support her agenda this time around.

Thus, in this atmosphere of fear, legislative courage has all but evaporated. A state senator inclined to oppose such bills recently confided to constituents that the threat of Atkins’ political reprisals was very real. Warned of such reprisals, that legislator is prepared to cave in to support bills that they would otherwise justly oppose.

It’s sad state of affairs. With public involvement and transparency missing in action in today’s legislative process due to the coronavirus, political courage also seems to be missing in action.

Nix the nine

Will any senators or assembly members dare have the bravery to oppose these nine nasty bills? Will senators like Steve Glazer, Anthony Portantino, Holly Mitchell and others rise to the occasion and demonstrate the courage they exhibited in defeating SB 50?

If they do so, it would embody the essence of true political courage. Let the courage of our legislators emerge–not to do business as usual–but to do what is right.

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Keith, since you and Livable California are the reasonable ones, what would reasonable housing policy look like here? We know your constraints – no building into open space, no building up, no building too close, don’t take away any parking, don’t add any traffic. Also, be “transparent” and don’t harm the “neighborhood character”. Asking because I need to know if I should buy my kids condos in Fresno now or if they might have a chance to afford a place to live in their hometown once your reasonable policies are enacted.

Take a look at the Grand Oaks Paseo being developed by Cal Coastal Properties in Atascadero. It’s a mixed use infill project on El Camino Real with 26 detached compact homes with garages that will likely sell in the high $200,000s-low $300,000s when completed. These smaller houses are much more affordable than the average home in San Luis Obispo.

Looks great. So you actually are in favor of more multi-family zoning, smaller minimum lot-sizes, and lots as small as 1,200 square feet.

When rents cease to be paid because people can’t work, housing prices will come down.

I grieve with you also, Keith, about this soon-to-be evisceration of decades of sensible zoning.

The Legislature and Nutsum are simply engaged in ruining quality of life in California in their quest and zeal for madcap progressivism. It will have consequences. Case in point: Take in-home senior care, for instance. Until the Legislature MANDATED overtime 8 hours paid sleep pay for your affordable, live-in caregiver, agencies such as Visiting Angels or Home Instead or a local independent like Monarch could keep you in your own home, NOT in a “rest home”, for not that much more monthly cost. Something nearly all of us would want.

That existing pay scale was working well for care workers who daily received 8 hours straight time, then 8 hours of overtime, then slept 8 hours off the clock. Nobody was being sweat-shopped or taken advantage of, and that system was working well across the state, until…..

Jerry Brown TWICE vetoed then signed the next session the bill mandating OVERTIME PAY for eight sleep hours of your sleeping in-home 24 hour caregiver, statewide. The immediate result: many Californians became priced into long term facilities because their money or LTC insurance couldn’t pay the new daily rate to live out their days at home. (Technically the law reads 9 hours straight time, fifteen hours overtime, to be exact).

Yes, a few wealthy folks could pay the new rates and that smaller remaining group of 24-hour caregivers received a windfall of extra pay (prior they were making an adequate over-$200/day, a fair and functioning financial relationship).

A few can pay: The rest of us were or will be priced out of our own homes in our twilight years, based on the madcap will of the “Legislature”. It wasn’t necessary, as this zoning and housing mess of bills isn’t necessary.

It’s the State vs Nimby!

The State has been trying to get local Governments to fix the housing shortage for some time, in most cases being completely ignored. I don’t think the State’s actions are developer driven at all, I would think it’s more constituent driven, the State is willing to try anything to create more housing in hopes of expanding supply with the goal creating affordability. By any metric we have a housing problem, add the rise in homelessness, and politicians at the State level are willing to do anything to show they’ve tried to do something to fix the problems!

Try and get a permit for any type of building here in San Luis Obispo County, after being mauled going through that process, then comes the exorbitant fee’s on top of that:(

So the only way to get the prices to a level that is less than ridiculous is housing on smaller lot’s with no yards or parking:(

If you look at most if not all(except for subsidized housing) of the affordable housing stock in this county, you would find that it was built before the rules became so stringent and could not be replicated today!

If you gave me a Planning and Fee exemption from all the rules, with a mandate to create affordable housing, with the caveat that it had to safe, wallah, the problem would be gone!!!

We have self imposed Nimby problem, not a housing problem and low and medium income people are suffering because of it:(

“By any metric we have a housing problem”?? Really. What are these metrics? Prove it please. People like to repeat these “facts” all the time but I do t see ANY real evidence that there is a “problem”. Most homeless people don’t count because many of them are not going to go out any buy or rent anything. They’re either drug addled or have severe mental problems, don’t work, can’t work or suffer from severe alcoholism. They need other help and places to live. But we are supposed to believe there are thousands and thousands of people with good jobs and down payments in the bank just waiting to buy and move into a nice house or condo or tiny cramped property but there’s just nothing available. So where are those people living in the meantime? Are these potential home buyers living in the on the street? No. Living in trailer and RVs illegally parked by the side of the road somewhere? No. Maybe they’re in tents up in the mountains? No. They’re obviously already living somewhere now. Otherwise they’ed be visible to the public. Now wanting to move into something better may be true but that does NOT constitute a housing shortage. So let’s stop the housing shortage nonsense. It’s simple a made up political ploy.

Interesting viewpoint:)

Pretty bid swath your taking, never said that new homes are for homeless, but the specter of so many drives these State Politicians to do something about the housing shortage, even if not specifically for them. To say there isn’t a shortage of affordable housing is the most interesting point you made. I see it all around me, and with my own employee’s. Four of my employees commute over and hour and half each way to work, four others live locally in rental situations without any hope of home ownership:(

I’ve had at least three employee’s recently leave the area for a lower cost of living, mainly housing. These are not low wage workers either, they make somewhere between $30.00 and $60.00 dollars per hour.

The rest have been here long enough to have bought housing when it was actually somewhat affordable.

I meet service workers paying $900.00 per month just to rent a room, others living on friends couches.

I was talking to a friend that was a Psychologist awhile back, she was telling me that strain and pressure of the cost and lack of availability of housing this area, was causing mental health and anxiety issues.

My viewpoint is not political and may be only anecdotal from my own personal experiences, but I see it a lot, and I see it all around me:(

There’s usually a political ploy by many to claim many homeless people are homeless because they can’t get housing. I wanted to address that I think that’s a BS argument for the vast majority of homeless people.

Your argument isn’t that there’s a shortage of housing but a shortage of AFFORDABLE housing. Different thing. All of the people you mentioned are currently housed somewhere. It’s just not housing they like. Nicer housing costs more money. The city of SLO is building new homes at a mind bending pace. Regitti ranch, Dalidio and several condo and apartment complexes also. And Regitti and Dalidio have portions reserved for “affordable housing”. So affordable housing is being built. I don’t know why your $60/hr guy can’t afford to buy something. He must have other priorities for his money or can’t manage money. The others aren’t making “nice home” money. They’re making apartment living money. They need to do what they can to make themselves more valuable.

It’s not the states responsibility (read MY responsibility) to provide nice housing for them. The state should not be attempting to influence zoning in all the cities of the state. It should be locally controlled like it currently is. If SLO really wanted to provide affordable housing, they’d “zone” for more trailer parks. That’s about the least expensive way to provide decent housing but the city won’t make any big money from it so they don’t allow. Same for builders, no money in it.

Facts aren’t hard to find.

“For both owners and renters, California has the highest share of households spending more than 30% of their income on housing”

“California’s supply of new housing has not kept pace with its population”

“California ranked #7 in housing permits per capita in 1986……but had fallen to #37 by 2018”


“Nearly 60% of renters in the county are cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on rent, according to 2018 U.S. Census Bureau data”


So some places in California are expensive. So what. Lots of areas across the country are expensive places to live. So don’t live there if you can’t afford it. I’d like to live in a multi million dollar cliff top mansion overlooking the ocean. Guess what. Can’t afford it. So I don’t. Maybe I can force the government to create new policies so I can live there? What nonsense.

There are plenty of places that are not expensive. Texas, Arizona, North Carolina to name a few. Go live there. Having the government attempt to social engineer living situations can’t turn out well. Local governments have allowed over development and overpopulation. They create a problem and then want to damage existing residents to fix the problem they’ve created. A vicious circle. So don’t rely on the government to take care of you. Self reliant people, who make the right decisions in life, can take care of themselves. The government needs to stay out of people’s personal lives.

Finding a place to live in a city of tens of thousands of people is not the same thing as living in any house or property of your choosing. Nobody is making that argument. Nice try.

Over-development and overpopulation are made up concepts by misanthropes who want to have some reason behind their exclusionary policies.

The government has stayed out of your life here in California by subsidizing your highways and roads, subsidizing your fuel, subsidizing and guaranteeing your mortgages, building water supplies, and subsidizing your cars, all of which you now claim to want to protect as your own. Very self-sufficient of you.

Sorry you were convinced that you could be the first generations in history to freeze your cities and towns in place. Telling someone to “live somewhere cheaper” is a modern anomaly driven completely by your desire to hoard and protect the resources you stumbled upon.

Also, would you like to raise the minimum wage to help low-wage service workers afford to live in your city or do you intend on doing those jobs yourself since you’re so self-reliant? Or should they continue to commute for 2 hours a day?

Single family zoning is a government policy. So are you actually against government policies or do you just want to exclude people?

Doesn’t apply anywhere in SLO County except as below. It’s not “within one-half mile from a bus stop”, it’s “within one-half mile of a high-quality transit corridor, as defined in subdivision (b) of Section 21155 of the Public Resources Code, or a major transit stop, as defined in Section 21064.3 of the Public Resources Code”. There are no high-quality transit corridors in SLO County (15 min. interval bus service during peak commute hours). The SLO, Paso, and Grover Beach Amtrak stations (“existing rail transit stations”) do qualify as major transit stops, oddly enough.

Sounds like these bills are backed by Airbnb. Developers mis-portray that micro home tracts will be the answer to affordable housing. After token owner occupancy the tiny or micro homes get turned into Airbnb or monthly rentals. There are two examples on my street on what works and what doesn’t. One neighbor turned a detached 2+ car garage first into a Cal Poly student rental, but now it’s an Airbnb that is consistently full. The other neighbor brought in a tiny home under the guise of a granny unit, but immediately turned it into Airbnb and they’re lucky if it is booked two weekends a month.

These Tiny Homes and Granny units are not permitted to be used as an Airbnb. You need to turn in a complaint to City Code Enforcement. I

Good topic for Congalton, one full hour.

Dave, are you listening?

Hi. This is hardly a reasoned column.