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Pam Marino here. It’s been a banner year for housing bills in the California Legislature that could have a huge impact on Monterey County—if we have the political will to utilize new tools and new money that are becoming available.

That was the takeaway I got from an interview this week with Matt Huerta, housing program manager at the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership.

“It ought to have a huge impact and like many other opportunities it's up to us in large respect,” Huerta says. There is “big money on the table” to solve homelessness and build more affordable housing, “and there’s just no excuse for our region not to use our fair share of that money.” 

Huerta is talking about the $22 billion approved in the 2021-21 state budget, including a big chunk for the Homekey program, which is already providing permanent supportive housing in Salinas—housing that comes with supportive services for those chronically homeless or with mental health or substance abuse issues. The state estimates the $22 billion will create 84,000 new affordable housing units.

Huerta sees opportunities for stalled affordable housing projects like the 66-unit East Garrison Apartments on the former Fort Ord that CHISPA (Community Housing Improvement Systems and Planning Association, Inc.) is slated to build. Another stalled project is Castroville Oaks, a mixed-income development with 90 homes and 125 apartments near Castroville. Both could benefit from money now made available.

Then there are the recent housing bills passed by the Legislature and signed by Newsom—he signed 27 on Tuesday Sept. 28 at an affordable housing development in Oakland, and another four earlier in the month. On Tuesday he said the collection of bills will boost housing production in California, with “more streamlining, more local accountability, more affordability and more density.”

Three bills stand out for Huerta: Senate bills 8, 9 and 10. SB 8 extends a previously passed bill, SB 330, the Housing Crisis Act of 2019. That bill put limits on how long it takes a city or county to approve housing, among other requirements. It was set to expire in 2025, but SB 8 extends it to 2030. SB 8 also locks in developer impact fees set a couple of years ago through 2030. “The fact that that’s on the table now is actually pretty significant,” Huerta says.

SB 9 and 10 deal with the density that Newsom referred to. They’ve perhaps received the most press attention because of the declaration by opponents that they mean the death of single-family zoning in California. 

It’s true they will encourage infill projects. SB 9 allows private property owners to subdivide their property to four-units, a process done ministerially instead of through planning commissions and city councils and boards of supervisors. Huerta argues that decades ago mixed zoning neighborhoods were common. “We got away from that for 30 years and all we’re doing is going back to a more healthy mix of unit types in the same neighborhood,” he says.

The League of California Cities strongly disagrees. Executive Director and CEO Carolyn Coleman released a statement yesterday calling SB 9 “flawed,” saying it “empowers developers, usurps local democracy, silences community voices, and fails to guarantee affordable housing.” She also called it a “scheme” that “circumvents the important local government review process that includes extensive public engagement.”

Huerta points out that there is an owner-occupancy provision. If you do build four units on your property you have to occupy one of them for three years. It’s meant to stop developers from scooping up properties but it could make some property owners hesitant to take advantage of the new law.

SB 10, meanwhile, streamlines the process for rezoning areas to allow building up to 10 units on properties that lie in a “transit-rich area or urban infill site.” It’s another unpopular bill among cities that see it as taking away their ability to determine their own zoning.

There’s some debate whether these bills will provide large amounts of new housing to California. The increase might not reach the heights housing advocates are hoping for. And there are going to be limits by locality, like (you know what I’m about to say) water on the Monterey Peninsula.

On Sept. 8, the California Department of Housing and Community Development sent a letter to the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments with the total number of housing units the state expects Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties to build between June 30, 2023 and Dec. 15, 2031. That number: 33,274. 

It’s a big number. The state budget and recent housing bills provide the tools and money to reach that number. It’s up to all of us to deliver the will.

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