Coast News Group: Affordable housing critical to North County's future

By Patricia Bates
Friday, January 19, 2018

Published by the Coast News Group

North County is a great place to live, but it is not immune to California’s housing crisis.

We know that it is very costly to rent or buy a home in the area. While the positive attributes of our region are a major factor in driving prices much higher than the national average, the simple truth is that housing supply is not keeping up with demand.

From a state perspective, we must find a housing balance that fits each region’s unique circumstances, and that is especially true for North County. Achieving this balance depends significantly on local control. That is why I did not support a proposal from Gov. Brown to pre-empt local land use decisions of specified housing developments because local residents deserve to be heard.

According to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, California needs to double the number of homes built each year just to keep prices from rising faster than the national average. Increasing supply is challenging as there is often opposition to new housing development. Some residents oppose new housing projects in their communities because they add traffic. Environmentalists oppose new housing construction on open land because it contributes to sprawl. The “NIMBY” — Not in My Backyard — sentiment is understandably high in California.

Even when a new housing development receives the necessary approvals, it must still comply with a heavy burden of regulations that add significantly to the cost of a new home. For example, the governor signed Senate Bill 35 last year that could add $84,000 to the cost of a 2,600-square-foot home by requiring “prevailing” wages on new construction.

California’s housing situation is threatening to drive some of our diverse talent to more affordable states. San Diego County businesses such as those in the life sciences industry need adequate housing for their growing workforce. If additional affordable market-rate housing is not built, these businesses may instead expand in other states. Such a move will mean the loss of taxpayers who contribute significantly to our tax base, and consequently a loss of tax revenue to fund essential services such as public safety and education.

The housing situation is not just a problem for the middle class; it is a critical issue for people who are homeless and on the verge of being homeless. Last year, the governor signed a package of bills that he said would help address the housing crisis. Unfortunately, the package does not address the existing regulatory framework that adds significant costs to new housing.

I believe the Legislature should consider reforming California’s Environmental Quality Act. This law has helped to protect California’s environment from the negative impacts of new development, but it has also been abused by special interests to block projects for non-environmental reasons. CEQA should be streamlined so projects meeting all necessary requirements are not tied up for years in costly delays.

Increased housing density should also be carefully evaluated in context of the impact to health, safety and quality of life in local communities. Finally, state and local governments must address the costly fees that can make new construction so expensive.

Housing continues to remain a hot topic in the Legislature. That is why I will be hosting a discussion in Carlsbad on Jan. 26 in partnership with the Building Industry Association of San Diego County. It will be held at 10 a.m. at the Sheraton Carlsbad (5480 Grand Pacific Drive, 92008). The event will feature a panel discussion on the issues I raised above and a question-and-answer session for attendees. Space is limited, so RSVP by sending an e-mail to Senator.Bates@senate.ca.gov or calling 760.642.0809.

I hope the event will advance the discussion on addressing North County’s housing needs as I will take the input back with me to the State Capitol. I invite you to join me in this effort.