Proponents of the plan describe it as a 15-year "emergency policy package" for solving the Bay Area's housing crisis. The preamble to the document notes that since 2010, the Bay Area has added 722,000 jobs but constructed only 106,000 housing units, a shortfall that has caused housing prices to go through the roof, spurred more homelessness and exacerbated the transportation crisis by forcing more employees to commute from other regions.
The Casa Compact includes 10 elements that aim to address these challenges but that, in doing so, would impose policies that have already proven to be highly contentious or unpopular at the local level. These include a policy requiring landlords to cite "just causes" for eviction and to provide relocation assistance to tenants who experience no-fault evictions, such as when the property owner wants to move in or the unit is removed from the rental market. Another element calls for capping annual rent increases at 5 percent plus the consumer price index. A third would guarantee free legal counsel and emergency rent assistance to low-income tenants.
Other elements focus on new housing. One calls for requiring automatic approval of accessory-dwelling units (also known as in-law or granny units) in all residential zones. Another would allow residential developments up to 55 feet tall (or 75 feet tall if they obtain density bonuses) within a quarter mile of rail stations and ferry terminals. In areas within a half mile of bus stops, new legislation would allow for residential buildings up to 36 feet tall. In both cases, the plan makes an exception for "sensitive communities," those made up predominantly of low-income residents who face a greater threat of displacement from the up-zoning policies. These communities would be granted a three-year deferral period so that they can plan for the proposed growth.
The compact also calls for an expedited approval process for housing projects that comply with zoning, with exemptions from the California Environmental Quality Act and a limit of one year and three hearings before approval.
Steve Heminger, executive director of MTC and ABAG, told the Casa Steering Committee last month that these policies are "trying to tune up the housing-production delivery machine, which I think it's fair to say is leaking plenty of oil these days and is not producing with sufficient speed, with sufficient certainty, the kind of new housing stock that we need."
The compact also includes two elements pertaining to funding, one calling for $1.5 billion in annual revenues to support the Casa Compact through some combination of funding by taxpayers, developers, employers, property owners and local governments. Another would establish a new entity called the Regional Housing Enterprise to levy fees, pursue new taxes, disburse funds and oversee new housing programs.
The compact does not, in itself, establish these policies. But by approving it, members of the Casa Committee hope the state Legislature will take the document and pass legislation that implements some, if not all, of its suggestions.
The Steering Committee members have characterized the compact as a necessary, if imperfect, compromise. Michael Covarrubias, president of TMG and one of the chairs of the Casa committee, said the elements in the compact reflect proposals that, for the most part, had already been proposed but that failed to advance in the past year.
An effort to strengthen rent control fizzled when voters opted in November not to repeal Costa-Hawkins, the state law that limits cities' powers to impose rent-control. Legislation pertaining to just-cause evictions and accessory-dwelling units similarly failed to advance in the last session, while Scott Wiener's proposed Senate Bill 827 got "beat up."
"All these children have been waylaid by the side of the road," Covarrubias said. "So what we said was, 'If we'd put them all together and we don't let them break apart and we give them to the Legislature, which is the body that will take it down the freeway, there is a shot.'"
Several expressed reservations about particular elements, though none actually opposed the compact. Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese said he was concerned about the prospect of "revenue displacement," the flow of local revenues to regional sources.
The compact has won the support of some elected leaders, including the mayors of Oakland, San Jose and San Francisco (all three of whom sat on the Casa Steering Committee). Yet the push for more state regulations has also galvanized pockets of opposition, with many mayors of smaller cities and towns submitting letters that bemoan their own lack of involvement in the discussion. By imposing these policies, critics maintain, the package of laws threatens to upend existing efforts by cities to promote housing.
Palo Alto Councilwoman Liz Kniss, a vocal housing advocate who served as mayor in 2018, was among those who urged the MTC not to endorse the Casa Compact.
"The compact does not appear to take into consideration the local land use laws of each Bay Area city, the plans each city has in place to meet its housing needs in the near future, or the housing needs of the residents in each city," Kniss' letter states.
Sunnyvale Mayor Glenn Hendricks slammed the compact's "one-size-fits-all policy" in his opposition letter and took issue with the document's proposed funding strategies, particularly its call for diverting 20 percent of property tax growth across the region, a policy that he argued would "result in significant cuts to core services in every Bay Area city."
In Los Altos, the council took a stand against the compact, arguing that its funding strategies are "not feasible" and that it "overstates the benefits of transit-oriented development and the ability of transit systems to truly accommodate the increased density."
Anita Enander, a member of the Los Altos City Council, spoke out against the compact at the Dec. 12 meeting of the Casa Steering Committee.
"If you think local governments will welcome being relieved of having to deal with housing proposals, if you think we want a mandated ministerial approval process with setbacks and height limits and incentives mandated by law, you are wrong," Enander said. "The people elected us to make that decision. It's our job."
Jeannie Bruins, a Los Altos councilwoman who represents north Santa Clara County cities on the MTC, was part of the dissenting minority. She noted that some of the policies that the Steering Committee has embraced are proving less popular at the local level, as evidenced by the 2018 election in which several council members who supported aggressive pro-housing policies (including Lenny Siegel in Mountain View and Cory Wolbach in Palo Alto) were voted out.
"We all want to be part of the solution, but what we ended up with was that anybody who had any inkling for supporting housing or for supporting trying to deal with and addressing homelessness ... those are incumbents who lost their seats," Bruins said. "The time to engage the cities is today, while you still have people sitting on councils who really want to be part of the solution, before you have those people replaced by people who are more in line with the NIMBYs."
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