Will controversial California housing law become permanent?

Construction workers build multifamily housing in San Diego on Jan. 13, 2023. Photo by Mike Blake, Reuters

From CalMatters political reporter Ben Christopher:

In 2017, California lawmakers passed one of the state’s most controversial and consequential housing laws, but they included an expiration date — 2025 — to see how things panned out.

Sen. Scott Wiener, the San Francisco Democrat who authored the bill, is pleased with the results so far. Monday, he introduced a bill to make the law a permanent fixture — with a slight tweak that could kick off another union-on-union spat in the state Capitol.

Modeled in part on a civil rights law from Massachusetts, Wiener’s five-year-old law presented an ultimatum for local governments hostile to new development: Either start permitting enough new homes to meet the state’s housing goals — or start fast-tracking new apartments, so long as they meet a set of basic qualifications.

There’s been a lot of fast-tracking since the law passed. 

According to data compiled by researchers at UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation, developers have used the law to speed up approval for nearly 12,000 new units. While that’s a lot of new homes, it’s far short of the 2.5 million that Gov. Gavin Newsom has pledged to bring on line by the end of his gubernatorial tenure.

Flanked by union carpenters, Wiener unveiled his new Senate Bill 423 at the site of a supportive housing complex in San Francisco that supporters of the law cite as a Senate Bill 35 success story

  • Wiener: “It’s very simple. You meet all the rules…you get your permit without a hyper-politicized, chaotic process that could take years and lead to litigation.”

The prominent inclusion of the California Conference of Carpenters was no coincidence. The bill would require any developer who wants to use the law to pay their workers union-level wages. But it shaves off a requirement that a certain share of the workforce actually be union members. 

That distinction was the cause of a split in organized labor last year: The carpenters successfully backed a bill making it easier to convert old strip malls into apartments with the mere wage requirement, but the Construction and Building Trades Council pushed another with the hiring requirement.   


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