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January 16, 2017

Governor Jerry Brown tries again to speed up construction—carefully this time

In 2016, California Governor Jerry Brown tried to employ a kind of housing nuclear option that would have overhauled the way that San Francisco and other California cities build. In short, it would have forced San Francisco to build a lot more and a lot faster.

But the legislature quietly tucked away Brown’s proposed law until it died from lingering too long without being acted on, at the behest of local governments who guard few things as closely as their right to be the gatekeepers of new construction.

Despite having been in California politics for longer than most of his constituents have been alive, Brown made a political error last year: His plan was too specific, which gave lawmakers too much room to complain.

In his latest proposed budget (a $123 billion affair in all), it seems the governor learned his lesson.

Browm did resurrect his previous message. “Though demand has increased steadily, construction rates continue to lag,” Brown writes, linking the lag to a litany of state housing woes. “Although the state has a number of policies and programs in place to construct affordable housing […] an increase in the housing supply [is] the most effective long‑term solution for reducing housing costs,” he continues.

But instead of putting forth a plan, Brown now asks lawmakers to jimmy up a package of new laws that will include some carrots for municipalities to speed up construction.

San Francisco’s Assemblymember David Chiu already proposed paying cities that upzone areas within half a mile of public transit—which would seem to include almost the entirety of San Francisco.

Chiu’s fellow SF Board of Supervisors alum, Scott Wiener, recently seated in the state senate, adopts a more aggressive tact: A Brown-style, streamlined building process that would kick in only for cities who fall behind building, and last only as long as it takes for them to catch up.

The governor would probably be amenable to either approach, or to both as part of a larger bill.

In the meantime, he warns that diminish tax revenue as boom times cool a bit and the threat of being starved of federal funds means sweet incentives might be harder to come by in years down the line.

But no matter what, all of these people have to go somewhere.

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