While the legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom had some solid accomplishments in the recent session, they fell short in dealing with California’s great curse of homelessness and the related shortage of housing affordable enough for working people.
This is not a surprise. Homelessness and the housing shortage have so far proved immune to any solution. Personally, I remain bewildered by the problem after years of following homelessness on the streets of Los Angeles as a reporter and an editor for the L.A. Times and later as a writer for Truthdig and LA Observed.
Larry Mantle, host of KPCC’s “AirTalk,” expressed the frustration of almost everyone dealing with homelessness in a recent interview with Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin, who has been investigating the situation: “Trying to get one’s arm around this thing, very challenging, Ron.”
Getting an arm around the issue will be a major issue of the next legislative session.
As for this just-concluded session, the web site CALmatters provides an excellent rundown of what the Democratic governor and lawmakers, with their super-majority power accomplished.
The measure with the greatest impact would extend a variety of benefits to Uber and Lyft drivers and many others in the gig economy. Such workers would have to be classified as as employees rather than independent contractors. Companies would have to offer them a minimum wage, overtime and other benefits.
The measure was backed by the unions and opposed by gig economy businesses.
The finale of the legislative session didn’t end the fight. Newsom, employers and the unions will have to negotiate how to implement the complex law. And Uber and Lyft have threatened to spend $60 million on a ballot measure next year nullifying the measure.
That probably will be worked out by the companies, the unions, Newsom and interested lawmakers. Uber and Lyft are too popular for these officials to permit the ride-sharers to go out of business. The same is true for the entire gig economy, now a major force in American life. Compromise will carry the day.
But there was little compromise on the intertwined issues of homelessness and housing.
That was clear early in the session with the demise of San Francisco Sen. Scott Weiner’s bill to ease local zoning rules to permit construction of apartment houses and other multiple residential units near transit stops and lines. It was held up in the Senate Finance Committee by the chairman, who is from Pasadena, a city strongly opposed to state interference with local zoning laws.
It was a huge victory for those who march under the banner of Not In My Backyard, the NIMBYs, who generally oppose increasing development in single-family residential neighborhoods.
They are a powerful political force in communities around the San Francisco Bay Area, and in the Southern California suburbs. Home ownership, rather than political beliefs, defines them. That common bond doomed the Wiener bill. The liberal speaker of the Assembly, Anthony Rendon, for example, while not opposing the measure, did nothing to help it. I could see why when I walked past the well tended, single family homes in his working class, largely Latino, district southeast of downtown Los Angeles. Multiple residential units? Not near these backyards, I thought.
In the next session, if Weiner tries to revive his bill, this is the kind of opposition he will face.
On his side is another coalition with a snappy name, Yes In My Backyard, the YIMBYs. It’s a national organization with a California branch well financed enough to support a staff of almost 20 working on digital campaigning and grassroots neighborhood organizing. Like the NIMBYs, it is beyond partisan politics. Among the leaders are liberal Democratic Mayors Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento and Libby Schaaf of Oakland. Liberal L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti is supportive.
Affordable housing advocates had one important victory in the past session, passage of a bill limiting rental increases. Newsom is expected to sign it.
But he knows the major fight will be over building multiple housing in single-family neighborhoods. In his campaign for governor, Newsom pledged that 3.5 million housing units would be built by 2025. He has organized a statewide task force of political leaders to come up with a plan. “It’s time we stop talking about the homelessness crisis and start acting,” said Newsom. “This is a crisis that affects all of California – from rural and urban communities to coastal and inland cities. We need to work collectively to source local solutions from mayors, county supervisors and city councils and implement those solutions at scale statewide.”
But this is a hope rather than a solution, as the recent legislative session showed.