BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer
With state Sen. Scott Wiener front and center, tech lobbyist Carl Guardino’s event on the Bay Area housing crisis yesterday (Jan. 25) championed dense housing near transit — leading Palo Alto Councilwoman Lydia Kou to scoff that it was “propaganda.”
On a comment card that she didn’t get a chance to pass up to the panelists, Kou wrote that the speakers had “not at all addressed the root cause of the problem, which is job growth, completely unfettered, and you are penalizing and shifting blame and burden on the taxpayers.”
The Silicon Valley Leadership Group’s Housing Solutions Forum, hosted at LinkedIn in Mountain View and sponsored by Facebook and the Committee to House the Bay Area, or CASA, featured panels on transit-oriented development, local and legislative solutions and the week-old CASA compact.
The CASA compact, approved by the Association of Bay Area Governments on Jan. 18, is a plan to start a regional agency to build housing and lobby state legislators to help with the Bay Area’s housing crisis.
The panels were moderated by San Francisco Chronicle Editorial Page Editor John Diaz, Mercury News Editorial Writer Ed Clendaniel and Silicon Valley Business Journal Editor-in-Chief J. Jennings Moss.
The event was organized by Guardino, head of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, a lobbying organization for the area’s big tech companies.
Bills seek housing near transit stops
For the last year, Wiener has been pushing state bills that would require California cities to allow apartment buildings near transit stops.
His current effort, Senate Bill 50, was released last month and has raised the hackles of some mid-Peninsula leaders who want to avoid state enforcement of laws allowing tall buildings, dense housing and low parking requirements.
Wiener said yesterday that California has a deficit of 3.5 million homes, equal to the deficit of the other 49 states combined.
In 70% of San Francisco, it’s illegal to build anything but a single-family home. Rather than continuing to add suburban sprawl, the state must add those homes near jobs and public transportation, Wiener said.
“Everyone has anxiety about the cost of housing, but then when you actually propose something that can move a dial, a lot of people come up with a whole diversity of objections,” Wiener said. “You’re never going to convince everyone, but building the broadest coalition possible is important.”
Since Wiener’s previous failed attempt, Senate Bill 827, he’s garnered support from unions and some progressives, he said. Some local elected officials have told him privately that they support the bill, but don’t feel they can do so publicly.
“Local control, far more often than not, is the better path. But not always,” Wiener said. “It’s not an elimination of local control, but a better balance where the state sets clear and enforceable standards to get us where we need to go.”
Another Wiener housing development bill, Senate Bill 35, was signed into law in 2017 and requires cities to build more housing or risk losing control of permitting processes.
Candice Gonzalez, the chief housing officer of Sand Hill Property Co. and former head of the nonprofit Palo Alto Housing Corp., said that given the severity of the housing crisis, she’s “all for the state taking away local control.”
“I can actually say that we don’t always need the money. We have the money, we have the land, but we don’t have the zoning or the determination,” Gonzalez said. “SB 35 allows us to go big or go home.”
‘One size fits all” approach
Palo Alto Councilwoman Alison Cormack wasn’t critical of the one-sided nature of the panels at the event, but said she has concerns about SB 50’s “one size fits all” approach.
But several other mid-Peninsula leaders in attendance complained that the panels were one-sided.
“The problem with the local control seizure, it won’t do anything to affect housing prices, but it will tick off voters big time in Sacramento,” Palo Alto Mayor Eric Filseth told the Post. “Which is not helpful, especially at a time they’re going to be going out to the public asking for revenue increases and stuff like that.”
Los Altos Mayor Lynette Lee Eng said that despite the push for apartments, condos and townhouses, the “American dream” is still to live in a single-family home. And she wants to see companies incentivized to build new job centers by expanding outside the Bay Area.
“A lot of people love to live around university towns, right? You have, like, UC-Merced that has a lot of space,” Lee Eng told the Post. “That could be a wonderful university town, but you’ve got to incentivize these companies to go over there, right? And we haven’t done that.”
Related articles on this topic
• Jan. 25, 2019 — Businesses, philanthropists to raise $500 million for housing
• Jan. 2o, 2019 — ABAG approves new regional housing agency
• Jan. 15, 2019 — Opinion: Why a ‘closed door’ meeting on housing policy?
• Jan. 11, 2019 — New regional agency wants more taxes for housing
• Dec. 20, 2018 — Regional housing agency formed, tax increases eyed
• Dec. 5, 2018 — Wiener bill may force cities like Palo Alto to build more housing
• Nov. 28, 2018 — Local officials meet at posh resort to discuss housing crisis
• Feb. 21, 2018 — Councilman Fine critical of letter opposing housing bill SB827
• Feb. 12, 2018 — Housing bill SB827 could result in 85-foot tall buildings on El Camino