Santa Cruz Sentinel: State Sen. Scott Wiener wants to speed affordable housing approval

June 30, 2017

By Jondi Gumz

Carrie Birkhofer bought a house in Santa Cruz for $200,000 and raised her family here.

Now that the median home price is $875,000, Birkhofer’s 23-year-old daughter, who has a master’s degree in business administration, wonders if she will ever be able to live in Santa Cruz.

Dan Smart, director of sales and marketing at the Santa Cruz Dream Inn, said he knows it’s tough to recruit people from out of state to take a managerial job. They can’t afford to pay $3,000 a month for a place to live.

Birkhofer and Smart joined 150 people at Seacliff Inn on Friday to hear State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, who is advocating for more affordable housing.

Wiener was invited by Casey Beyer, executive director of the Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce, who declared Santa Cruz has a housing crisis.

As he sees it, “we can become a retirement community, a bedroom community of Silicon Valley, or we can try to reinvest in our community, building the housing we need, all income levels.”

Wiener is taking the latter route. He’s heard about escalating rents, senior citizens worrying about eviction, college grads who can’t afford a place to live.

Wiener introduced Senate Bill 35, which would trigger a speedier over-the-counter permit process for multifamily affordable housing projects when cities lag in meeting housing goals assigned by the state. The faster process would apply to housing types with unmet needs such as low-income housing.

In some cities, these housing goal numbers “sit on a shelf and collect dust,” Wiener said.

Wiener also wants to end the time-consuming review and appeals that stretch the process and result in pricier housing.

A 12-unit project in San Francisco complied with zoning yet approval took six years, he said, adding, “That is not OK.”

The state has not been tracking housing production and 121 cities with their own charters are not required to submit housing data to the state — two loopholes Wiener’s bill would close.

“Why not include a carrot?” suggested Maggie Barr, of Boulder Creek, president-elect of the Women’s Council of Realtors.

Giving cities an incentive would provide more motivation, she said.

Wiener has a coalition of support for Senate Bill 35 among housing advocates, builders and some environmental groups.

Sierra Club California and the League of California Cities are opposed.

This year, 130 housing bills were introduced.

“It happened over 50 years due to policy that was short-sighted,” Wiener said.

In June, the State Senate approved a $3 billion affordable housing bond, which could help nonprofit developers such as Eden Housing, but whether Gov. Jerry Brown will sign it is not known.

Previous state housing bonds are depleted, and the federal housing money has been cut.

State Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, introduced Senate Bill 2, to impose a $75 fee on real estate documents, including refinances and foreclosures, but not sales, creating a housing fund. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is opposed.

Santa Cruz Mayor Cynthia Chase asked Wiener about dealing with opposition.

At meetings, he often asks people how many of their kids will be able to live in the neighborhood.

“It does actually change the energy in the room,” he said.

Read the article on the Santa Cruz Sentinel website