BY LINDSEY HOLDEN
UPDATED FEBRUARY 13, 2023 1:24 PM
For more than five years, a California law has allowed residential developers to circumvent local approval processes in cities that haven’t met state housing goals. Senate Bill 35, authored by Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2017, was part of a 15-bill housing package meant to stimulate construction in a state where it is sorely needed. On Monday, Weiner will introduce a measure making it permanent. It requires local governments that haven’t met their state Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) goals to approve multifamily complexes that satisfy zoning and planning standards.
To take advantage of the streamlining, builders must use sites zoned for residential or mixed-use construction in urban areas where most of the site borders existing developments. The bill also requires builders to pay workers prevailing wage on projects of at least 10 units. Projects with at least 50 units of housing must cover workers’ healthcare. Developers also must hire workers in apprenticeship programs when possible.
Wiener’s office reports developers proposed 18,000 housing units from 2018 to 2021 using SB 35, according to preliminary data from the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley.
WILL BILL GET TRADES SUPPORT?
The Senator’s attempts to make his measure permanent come after Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, got a similar bill through the Legislature in 2022. Assembly Bill 2011 streamlines housing production in commercially zoned areas and also includes prevailing wage and apprenticeship requirements. Wiener’s bill extension, like AB 2011, has the support of the California Conference of Carpenters. However, it’s unclear whether the powerful State Building and Construction Trades Council of California — which backed SB 35 the first time around — will do so again.
The two unions were at odds last session over the labor requirements in Wicks’ bill. The carpenters were pleased with prevailing wage standards, but the trades wanted to see additional provisions pushing developers to hire “skilled and trained workers,” or union labor.
SB 35 contained skilled and trained requirements, but the 2023 version appears to have labor stipulations that are closer to those in Wicks’ bill.
Wicks, who chairs the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee, negotiated union concerns by partnering with Sen. Anna Caballero, D-Merced. Caballero authored a similar bill incentivizing housing construction in areas zoned for retail and office space. But her measure also stipulated developers must initially solicit bids for union labor.
Tag-teaming the two bills helped lawmakers push them over the finish line, and Gov. Gavin Newsom signed them in September. The trades never supported Wicks’ bill, but they remained mum and didn’t object to its passage.
Wiener has already gotten caught up in this power struggle. The Senator in December introduced a bill making it easier for religious institutions to build housing on their property. The carpenters are backing Wiener’s bill, while the trades came out in opposition to it.
Having previously authored bills with trades backing, Wiener in December seemed confident he could do so again.
“My goal is always to thread the needle and come up with a resolution,” he said at the time.
This story was originally published February 13, 2023, 6:00 AM.