By Tex Yamada and Ann Nye —
California Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi, District 66, serving his third term, spoke after Leonora Camner (AHLA) and Grace Farwell (SBCCOG) emphasizing that homelessness and affordable housing present a set of complex issues for state and local lawmakers and residents alike.
Referring to the big picture, Muratsuchi indicated both policy and political forces are at play to fix the homelessness and affordable housing issues. He said his big focus has been linking a good public transportation system to enable increasing the supply of affordable housing. The policy angle is to build more affordable housing, that is accessible to all income levels. “Those of us that have lived in the great cities of the world from our East Coast cities, New York City and Boston, then Tokyo and London, we’ve seen those real-life examples of how we can make high-density housing work when it’s coupled with a great public transportation system.”
Assemblyman al Muratsuchi Speaks to the PV Dems
Then, Muratsuchi said, there is the flip side of the argument, the political matter. “I tend to hear a lot more from people that are afraid that their lifetime investment in their home and quality of life they enjoy may feel threatened by this prospect of the State taking away local zoning authority in order to build high-density housing,” said Muratsuchi. “It’s a tough issue and I wanted to acknowledge the political tension that’s at the heart of this housing challenge.”
Muratsuchi made a point to mention State efforts to address the Homeless issue in 2019, with an allocation of $1 billion in funding, a record amount. Also, in February of this year, Governor Gavin Newsom assigned Homelessness a high priority status in his State of the State Address. But, as Muratsuchi pointed out, “COVID-19 happened, which turned our world and lives upside down.” Hence, State government priorities were reassigned.
State Senator Ben Allen, District 26, joined our discussion to talk about the repeal of Article 34 in the State Constitution that he and State Senator Scott Wiener are proposing to get on the November ballot. Allen explained, Article 34, which inflates the cost of providing subsidized housing, “was basically put into the Constitution to try to make it easier to block subsidized housing.” AHLA says Article 34 is, “a racist anti-housing law that makes it unnecessarily difficult to build low-income housing in California by requiring that voters approve any and all affordable housing plans in their town or city.”
Article 34 was enacted into law in 1950, and states in part, “No low rent housing project shall hereafter be developed, constructed, or acquired in any manner by any state public body until, a majority of the qualified electors of the city, town or county, as the case may be, in which it is proposed to develop, construct, or acquire the same, voting upon such issue, approve such project.”
“Before COVID-19, we were full steam ahead,” continued Senator Allen. “COVID-19 has just created a whole new set of complications. Some of our sponsors want us to wait before putting it on so that they can organize a better campaign.” Allen concluded that prior attempts to repeal Article 34 have been unsuccessful, but the campaign is optimistic that it can end the streak.
In the Question and Answer session, Amy Josefek brought up Senate Bill 902 and wanted to know whether Senator Allen and Assemblyman Muratsuchi support the proposed legislation. SB 902 was written by State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) to help jumpstart new housing construction in California. The bill was introduced in the Senate June 23 and passed by a 33-3 vote. It will be voted on by the State Assembly in early July.
Senator Allen abstained from the vote on SB 902. Assemblymember Muratsuchi admitted that he had not studied the bill at the time of the PV Democrats’ Zoom meeting. He indicated it will be a balancing act to weigh the pro and cons of voting for or against. “On the one hand, we support our local officials in their desire to protect the quality of life that we enjoy here in the South Bay,” he explained. “But on the other hand, there are compelling arguments in support of building more housing.”
To wrap up the Q & A session, both Allen and Muratsuchi commented on the COVID-19 effects. Allen expressed concern over the resurgence of reported cases and said, “We’re in this for the long haul and I really do worry, especially younger folks don’t understand the urgency has not left. Not a thing has changed, except maybe we got some ventilators and some ICU capacity.”
Muratsuchi voiced similar concerns and stressed, “The original principal of science over politics needs to be emphasized. Public health needs to prevail over political demands to re-open the economy.” He added, that one of the most difficult things to deal with are those who cannot afford to stay home from work.