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California lawmakers target cities’ ability to block new housing

Build, build, build.

The spirit of housing construction has imbued the state Capitol with renewed fervor this year as Gov. Gavin Newsom and coastal lawmakers push for policies to spur what they say is badly needed development to get soaring rents and home prices under control.

Advocates who work on housing issues in California say the topic is taking center stage like never before, with more than 200 bills introduced this session. The most provocative ideas — and those likely to cause the fiercest legislative fights — challenge the extent to which cities can control what gets built within their boundaries. Several measures would override zoning ordinances and remove other obstacles to make it easier to build housing.

…Anya Lawler, who lobbies for the Western Center on Law & Poverty, said the Legislature has already passed bills in recent years to make housing construction easier and that the state has increased pressure on cities to allow building, such as the lawsuit Newsom authorized in January against Huntington Beach (Orange County). She said the state needs to give those policies a chance to work.

“Now the pendulum has swung very far in the other direction where we’re blaming local governments for everything and using them as a scapegoat,” Lawler said.

Her organization supports efforts to limit rent increases and build more low-income housing. But she warned that overloading cities with aggressive state mandates could frustrate those that are trying to do the right thing without targeting those that have been truly obstinate on development.

“At some point we have to say, ‘OK, here are the rules. Follow them,’” Lawler said. “We’ve reached a point where the number of bills out there is insane.”

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