A Bold Start for the New Legislature and Governor

Joshua Stark Headshot

Sacramento Capitol BuildingUpdated April 18, 2019 with several additional bills TransForm supports.

If we have one word to sum up California’s new Governor and Legislature, it is “bold.” That shouldn’t surprise anyone. It’s natural for a new governor to want to come out of the gates making a statement, and Gavin Newsom has already done so on multiple fronts. Democratic legislators have supermajorities and a willing ally with whom to address the housing crisis — an issue that was not at the top of Jerry Brown’s agenda, but certainly is for Newsom.

So we’re seeing bold statements and big proposals, the scope of which are necessary to tackle the challenges we face — the housing and affordability crisis, climate change and its attendant catastrophes, rising emissions from transportation, and unabated social, economic, and racial inequality (to name a few).

The Governor and Legislature have made some of their biggest moves in the realm where TransForm works: the link between housing, land use, and transportation policies. We’re wading through all these bold ideas, and here is our take so far… with more to come! All of our legislative positions are also available here.

It’s time to link transportation and climate goals 

Last year, the California Air Resources Board submitted a progress report on California’s Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008 (otherwise known as SB 375) with profound and dire findings: Not one of our state’s regions is on track to meet state-mandated greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals for 2030. In fact, we’ve seen emissions from transportation (already the largest source of GHGs in the state) rise in recent years while emissions from other sectors fell.

Climate leaders took the report’s dire findings to heart, and Senator Ben Allen has now authored SB 526, a bill to help get regions on track to meet their transportation-related climate goals. SB 526 would improve data collection, create a state-level Mobility Action Plan for Healthy Communities, and direct the California Transportation Commission to prioritize projects that reduce Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) in regions’ transportation plans. (Streetsblog did an excellent job summing up the bill.)

Focusing transportation dollars on infrastructure that reduces the need for driving is vital to dealing with our climate crisis. It’s just as vital that we do so in ways that benefit all Californians — particularly those who need better options to get around or are now forced to spend hours in a car each day just to work, go to school or the doctor, or eat healthy fresh foods.

SB 526 (Allen - Santa Monica) is a bold move at the right time (though maybe a better time would have been one or two decades ago). We think it’s the most important climate bill introduced this year, so we’re co-sponsoring it with the Natural Resources Defense Council and the American Lung Association of California. ClimatePlan has also been an indispensable leader to get us to this point. Please stay tuned for ways you can help support this vital bill.

Housing bills we’re supporting and watching

TransForm has been working on the housing/transportation nexus for as long as we’ve been around, but we’ve never seen as much legislative attention to the intersection of these issues as we do now.

The momentum, urgency, and legislative leadership is overwhelmingly coming from the Bay Area at this point, where the crisis is most acute. That’s partly because of the CASA Compact, a regional strategy TransForm supports, which aims to protect renters, preserve existing affordable homes, and produce more affordable and market-rate housing in the Bay Area.

To implement CASA’s recommendations, Bay Area legislators have introduced 14 housing-related bills. So far we’re supporting several of those and actively analyzing the rest… we’ll take additional positions as we learn more.

TransForm supports the Keep Families Home Bill PackageAB 36 (Bloom - Los Angeles), AB 1481 (Bonta - Oakland), and AB 1482 (Chiu). AB 36 would reform the Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act to give cities and counties the option to allow rent control on certain properties where it is currently prohibited. AB 1481 would provide Just Cause eviction protections to renters throughout the state. AB 1482 would impose a reasonable cap on annual rent increases for most rental properties throughout the state. These are the most meaningful set of renter protection bills California has seen in decades. Learn how you can support these bills!

TransForm supports SB 18 (Skinner - Berkeley), which would expand state funding for rental assistance and legal aid for residents facing eviction. It would also extend some eviction protections that would otherwise expire at the end of this year, and require key information about applicable laws and resources be made available on the Department of Consumer Affairs’ website.

TransForm supports AB 68 and AB 69 (Ting - San Francisco), which both aim to ease restrictions on and reduce the cost of building “Accessory Dwelling Units,” smaller units on existing lots (aka granny flats, in-law units, or casitas). Several cities have already taken steps to spur the construction and permitting of ADUs, and this bill would boost those efforts and fill the gap in other cities. ADUs are a promising solution since they tend to be relatively affordable, add density to single-family neighborhoods without major zoning changes, and also provide income and options for homeowners who want to age in place.

TransForm supports AB 1483 and AB 1484 (Grayson - Concord), which would increase transparency and clarity around local development fees, restrictions, standards, and taxes. The bills require that this information is posted and available on local and state agencies’ websites and that developers have reasonable notice of applicable fees.

TransForm supports AB 1486 (Ting), which would make substantial changes to the Surplus Land Act to facilitate the development of under-utilized public land for affordable housing.

TransForm supports AB 1487 (Chiu - San Francisco), which would authorize the creation of the Housing Alliance for the Bay Area (HABA), a new intergovernmental entity with the power to raise and allocate funds for more affordable homes and protections for long-term residents and renters throughout the Bay Area. This would help fill the gap created by the loss of redevelopment agencies and the subsequent patchwork of city and countywide efforts to fund affordable housing, which do not reach all the region's communities.

The most high-profile bill in the CASA package, which we have not yet taken a position on, is SB 50 (Wiener - San Francisco). This follow-up to last year’s SB 827 would allow for greater density near high-quality transit and in “jobs-rich” neighborhoods. Our priorities haven’t changed on this since our analysis of last year’s bill, and we’ve been in conversation with Senator Wiener and advocates on all sides of the issue since then to craft a powerful, fair, durable solution. We’ll continue to watch SB 50 closely and hope to share our analysis of it soon, along with the rest of the CASA package.

Transportation bills we’re supporting and watching 

Don’t worry. We haven’t forgotten about transportation! There are some excellent bills we’re supporting on that front as well.

TransForm supports SB 127 (Wiener) to move the needle on an issue we’ve been working on with our biking and walking allies for years — getting Caltrans to enact Complete Streets improvements on its streets and roads that are also used as multi-modal corridors (or would be, if they weren’t so dangerous!). This bill would make busy roads much safer for people biking, walking, and using transit. Streetsblog put it well in another excellent article: “SB 127 would require the state to acknowledge that not every road user is, wants to be, or can be in a car. It calls for a long-overdue paradigm shift in how transportation projects are prioritized and funded in California.”

TransForm supports SB 59 (Allen) to create an autonomous vehicle interagency working group that would help ensure that AV technology and implementation, among other things, “support the state’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and encourage efficient land use.”

TransForm supports SB 400 (Umberg - Santa Ana), which would add bike share and e-bikes to the list of "mobility options" low-income Californians can receive vouchers for when they retire polluting vehicles.

We’re watching SB 278 (Beall - San Jose), which will eventually authorize a regional “mega measure” to be placed on the ballot in the Bay Area to address pressing transportation (and potentially housing) challenges, funding critical infrastructure to the tune of tens of billions of dollars. We’re actively working with a broad range of allies to ensure this measure is equitable and sustainable, funding projects and services that reduce reduce climate emissions, reduce health inequities, and make our transportation system more convenient, accessible, affordable, and interconnected. Stay tuned for more on that effort!

There are a few other promising transportation bills we’re watching and will share more about soon, including AB 1142 and AB 285 (Friedman - Burbank). These bills would support pilot projects that reduce Vehicle Miles Traveled and require Caltrans to include plans to reduce GHGs and meet state climate goals in its California Transportation Plan update.

Governor Newsom on transportation and housing

In January, the Governor submitted his first budget proposal — and with it, his first bombshell. Newsom made clear the deep connection between housing policy and transportation funding… by threatening to deny state transportation funds to regions that are not meeting housing goals. That’s another first in housing policy.

The uproar among cities and regions was fast and furious, and the Governor has since rolled back his proposal, but only a bit. New language sets up additional funds to help regions meet their housing goals, but maintains the threat of withholding transportation funds if certain housing goals aren’t met by 2023.

TransForm is analyzing this latest language, and we will be weighing in soon. In particular, we want to make sure that our most vulnerable neighbors aren’t pushed out of their communities, and that we expand access to high-quality transportation choices, not decrease it. For example, we would be concerned if funding for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure were included in any clawback of transportation funding.

It’s a bold proposal to be sure. We can’t predict all the impacts, but we are heartened by the Governor’s understanding of the strong connection between transportation and housing.

Whether it’s with this proposal or others, we always relish crafting policy that better aligns these two issues — for Californians and our climate.

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About This Blog

TransForum is the blog of TransForm, California's leading transportation advocate. For more about our work, including ways you can take action and contribute, visit TransFormCA.org.