The California Alliance of Local Electeds (CALE), an alliance of bi-partisan elected city officials across the state, recently announced its opposition to SB 1120.

Pleasanton City Councilmember Julie Testa serves as the executive director of CALE, which, in part, aims to hold the legislators and the governor accountable for “creating true affordable housing bills.”

SB 1120, she says, is not one of them.

“One of the things CALE works to stress is, with the housing agenda that’s been pushed, we’re trying to call out the fact that it’s a false agenda,” Testa said. “It was originally marketed as ‘affordable housing’ bills … but these bills are real estate and developer special interest bills. As a city, currently, the California constitution gives control of zoning to local municipalities, and our state legislature with bills like this and several others are trying to remove that.”

Testa went on to explain that not only would SB 1120 take away local control, but also it would exempt projects from public hearings, discretionary review, California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review and would reduce or eliminate parking requirements. She noted it would let developers buy lots as small as 2,400 square feet with one home and subdivide it into two 1,200 square-foot lots to build two homes on each lot; garages and yards are not required.

“They say these developments are going to be naturally affordable, because they are smaller units, but there is no requirement of affordability; they will be market rate,” Testa said, noting California is not in need of market-rate housing, but rather low- and very low-income housing. “They can be luxury units that aren’t in any way affordable. Look at who’s promoting the bills…”

She explained that her interest in exploring the false narrative of housing bills that falsely claim to provide low-income housing began when she went to testify in Sacramento against SB 827.

“What caught me off-guard was who was sitting at the table at the hearing – real estate and developer representatives; they are the sponsors,” she said. “And sitting opposed were nonprofits and advocates for the homeless and vulnerable populations.”

Testa noted that she had attended a recent conference in Oakland, during which time she found advocates for homeless and low-income populations supported the stance that SB 1120 was indeed another real estate bill.

“Speculators, developers and home rental corporations could buy family-owned homes, demolish them and build four market-rate rental homes or units,” Testa said. “It’s an unfunded state mandate ... it will impact schools, water, traffic. We think it’s an inappropriate intrusion into our neighborhoods.”

Testa further pointed out that the falsely advertised bills have created a generational divide between homeowners and those young adults looking to step into the housing market.

“Our young people think homeowners are trying to keep them from being able to afford to live, and what we want to do is make sure that the right kind of legislation is happening that will benefit them, not just the developers in the industry,” she said. “There have only been a couple of truly affordable housing bills, and we’ve supported those, but they didn’t make it through, such as SB 5.”

Livermore City Councilmember Trish Munro stressed that she didn’t want to come out for or against any specific bill, but shared her general perspective on the issue.  

 “Generally, bills tend to look at only one issue,” she began. “But at a regional level, when bills simply look at housing without taking into account jobs and transportation, then they are part of the problem in creating longer commutes, crowded roads and worse environments. Any specific bill could be just fine, but I believe every bill should be looking at how we also think about transportation and jobs.”   

Others who have signed in opposition to the bill include Vinnie Bacon (District 1 Supervisor candidate), along with Pleasanton City Councilmember Karla Brown and Dublin Vice Mayor Arun Goel — both running for mayor in their respective cities.

“In our city, we’ve just had this excessive urban growth, and it’s not delivering to the essential factor of the housing crisis,” Goel said. “When we talk about the housing crisis, we’re really talking about affordable housing, and SB 1120 does not address that. It’s really just bringing in more market-rate (housing) in disguise. It’s circumventing a lot of the regulations and rules that local jurisdictions need to have in order to make sure they have sustainable infrastructures. What we’re finding is a lot of the policymakers are not sufficiently informed.”

Testa agreed, explaining that between the pandemic and wildfires, legislators are working under a tight legislative schedule with little time to read and analyze the bills, which are often overly broad and undefined. She noted the legislature is rushing through sweeping land-use legislation without conscious and deliberate debate of its implications.

Alongside opposition to SB 1120, CALE also issued a declaration of a State of Crisis in Governance. The organization’s declaration, submitted to Gov. Gavin Newsom Aug. 20, called for the legislature and governor to suspend all activity on land-use bills until the aftereffects of the pandemic are known. It read, “The existing bills cannot respond to the post-COVID world, which will include increased remote work, increased commercial and office space vacancies, increased housing stock due to potential demographic and preference changes, decreased urban housing demand, and other as-yet unknown new realities.”

“The opportunity for vigorous debate on proposed legislation forms the bedrock of democracy,” Testa continued. “Even so, Sacramento is rushing to vote on housing bills with almost no possibility for public engagement. This lack of transparency will have irreversible consequences for our communities.”