Legislative Interviews 2023

Six Bay Area Leagues met with State Senator Nancy Skinner and Assemblymember Buffy Wicks on voter participation, funding for school facilities, and water resources, homeless and workforce housing. This and the next four newsletters will include reports on those meetings.

On Voter Participation – Skinner is concerned about outreach and education on voting rights of the incarcerated, because the large majority of the incarcerated (e.g., 85% in Santa Rita jail) haven’t been convicted—they just can’t make bail. The State has a deficit, so funding might need to come from re-direction of existing resources. Assemblymember Wicks favored outreach and removing barriers, e.g., have automatic registration with an opt-out provision.

Sustainable and Equitable Water Resource Management

Q: How would you propose to transform management of California’s water resources in response to changing conditions to minimize impact on food production and its associated jobs without adversely affecting food security and other users and uses of water

State Senator Nancy Skinner

  • Complicated question – can’t give appropriate answer
  • 80% of CA water is used by Agriculture and controlled by Federal government, not CA
  • The water situation is so convoluted because of this; this is why this is one subject she hasn’t tried to take on;
  • Worth LWVC looking at drought
  • When Jerry Brown was governor, he mandated a 20% statewide water reduction that resulted in close to a 25% drop in both water and energy usage.
  • The mandate was removed because water districts couldn’t meet operating costs as they rely on water usage for funds
  • Removing the mandate was a lost opportunity in terms of reduction in electricity use at that time. Why? Because electricity is used in pumping, treatment, and transport of water. When we look at grid reliability, if we went back to a water reduction plan, we could potentially eliminate some less reliable sources of electricity because the electricity needed would be reduced due to the water reduction nexus.
  • UC Davis did the research and has the data on this, but the success of the program wasn’t well-publicized..
  • The legislature just voted to extend Diablo Canyon.

Assemblymember Buffy Wicks

This is a complicated topic. This year, for the first time, I am doing two different bills on this issue. Water rights in California are ripe for reforms – they are incredibly complicated. People mention 1913, the 1850’s even – long, complicated historic problems with diversion upstream and evaporation. Some legacy water rights holders have tremendous power here.

Rebecca Bauer-Kahan is chairing the committee looking into this. We are trying to work on policies for more equity. There is a separate bill for low-income communities for equitable access.

With the drought, water has become a scarce resource, a crisis. The public of California is not in control of water rights and access. Eighty percent of our water is controlled by agriculture; a water board needs to have more power.

“Wild, the water issues we have here.”

Housing and Homelessness

State Senator Nancy Skinner

The problem is not necessarily lack of housing, but lack of affordable housing

  • Another complicated issue
  • There is a shortage of units in the Bay area, including Berkeley and Oakland.
  • A good amount of it is market rate and very unaffordable; neighbors often oppose affordable housing.
  • On questions of landlords who keep apartments vacant – Ellis Act and Costa Hawkins – the purpose was to undermine rent control; proposed tax on vacant units failed Berkeley ballot – may have needed a vote, couldn’t just enact law in Berkeley.
  • Cities can send testers to look at apartments to enforce acceptance of section 8 vouchers and rent to minorities, but they generally don’t enforce laws and regulations.
  • Not sure whether we can give statewide incentives to help landlords rent to section 8 tenants; we did this in LA with some success, so incentives are worth exploring as a statewide option.
  • Fed government doesn’t fund housing anymore since Reagan. Last 2-3 years we have put more money into subsidizing affordable housing than we have in eons. Housing is developed by market rate investors. So, incentivize affordable units mixed in with market rate units; cities have to allow market rate developers to include 20% affordable units.
  • Takes longer for non-profit developers to build affordable than market rate.
  • Have put forward bills to limit the amount of time w/hearing, etc. that it takes to build affordable housing.
  • Eden Housing, Resources for Community Housing = some organizations helping with housing solutions
  • For commercial properties, people are now mostly purchasing online, not in brick/mortar shops. The share of online purchases keeps increasing. Stores are closing because of this, even the large box stores
  • HHAP, Homeless Housing Assistance Program – for very affordable housing for the portion of the unhoused population that needs full support. This is a small part of the unhoused population. Governor wanted more accountability, met with mayors in December; realized that certain details the state required of the cities were so onerous that they weren’t effective. Now trying to figure out how to change the requirements
  • As an example: BART received $350k to deal with homeless on transit and gave a contract to the Salvation Army, but the Salvation Army has a policy of complete abstinence. Such a policy is not appropriate for this part of the population. So, the contract served just one person!
  • Trying to look at how to restructure funding sources to make clearer and get best results – funding is for purchase money.
  • HomeKey program has had success –
  • eg, Golden Bear Hotel is an example of HHAP funding, which can be used for purchase and conversion of existing property and for services, is housing for the homeless and includes services. This hotel is a permanent housing option; people can stay there or could be transferred to different housing.
  • Dormitory at the old Alameda College of the Arts – converted to housing for unhoused seniors and includes services
  • Another project is MacArthur hotel.

Assemblymember Buffy Wicks

I see legislative and my personal priorities as one and the same. I have 25 bills, but housing is my #1. I’m chair of the housing committee.

I plan to spend the next two years working on the biggest nut to crack: how to have ongoing funding for affordable housing. We will never have housing stability if the State doesn’t invest via the budget. We got rid of the redevelopment agencies, which has had a big financial impact.

I have a $6 billion ask for this year. I’m trying to figure out how to secure $100 billion over a much longer period of time, so that we can solve this problem.

Among the aspects of the problem I’m looking at are: how do we have more rentals? How do we build more middle-income housing for teachers and nurses, for example, who can’t afford to live in the communities where they work?

We have to fund affordable housing. Voters expect us to make progress.

Overall climate policy is also very important, including the equity issues. Low-income communities will be harder hit. We’ve had fires, floods, rising sea levels – we’re just now understanding what we need to do. Housing and transportation are climate policies. We need to be more thoughtful about how these aspects are connected.

There’s also an issue around infill housing – I’ve questioned the Sierra Club on this. We need as many as 3.5 million additional homes in California. I want to build infill housing, not build into open spaces where freeways could be needed. Not all environmental agencies agree that infill is the solution.

LWV: AB 2295 identified 7000 properties, all infill, for education workforce housing. How can districts better understand and take advantage of opportunities? Are there any additional funding carrots? The California School Boards Association (CSBA) is using the program, but training alone will take a year. Board members and facilities staff would do more if they were more aware of this legislation.

BW: There are teachers in Oakland, born and raised and now teaching there who can’t afford to live there. We are looking for “missing middle” housing. Mia Bonta took over the pilot program, “Rooted in Oakland.” We need to expedite programs like this – they are part of the current conversation.

LWV: Could you explain HHAP’s current status and its relationship to the housing element?

BW: Funds are running out for HHAP. We have to do more. Are housing element plans a separate program from HHAP? Ilaf (Esuf, on Asm. Wicks’ staff) will get back to you on this.

(Note: Oakland’s housing element was approved.)

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