California is widely known for not having enough housing for people. One tactic California lawmakers have weighed in to address the state’s housing shortage is to open up commercial land for residential construction. Yesterday lawmakers reached agreement on a pair of bills that would allow residential development on a huge chunk of commercial land in the state.
The Sacramento Bee reports that Senator Anna Caballero, D-Merced, and Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, have spent most of this year negotiating with carpenters and unions and drafting legislation that would allow new homes to be built in areas zoned for office or retail buildings. After reaching an agreement with the unions, the two lawmakers are confident that their two complementary bills will pass easily. Wick’s bill, Assembly Bill 2011grants homebuilders a fast approval process that bypasses zoning laws and local government approval, as long as developers ensure their construction workers receive a going wage and a percentage of new homes built is affordable. Senate Bill 6, Caballero’s bill, would allow developers to build homes at market price on commercial land, however, such developments would be subject to the local approval process. But just like Wick’s bill, job security is built in by giving the first two construction offers to union members, but all non-union workers must be paid the prevailing wage.
A deal of this magnitude, let alone two, would have been considered far-fetched just a few years ago, as local authorities have generally pushed back on housing construction on land set aside for commercial purposes. Why? Because businesses pay more property taxes than residences. So much so that many city governments are happy to leave vacant land after a store has closed, sometimes for decades, in the hope that another retailer will take its place. But after the pandemic pushed businesses online and propelled the work-from-home trend, making empty shops and offices less likely to be snatched up, the idea of building housing on commercial land was cast in a light. more favorable.