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Bear Essentials: Look out NIMBYville, there’s a new sheriff in town

May 5, 2023

Warriors and Lakers are 1-1 and the state has record snow pack. Nature is healing itself (we can hope). Here’s what happened this week:

  • The press says 2022 was a “housing boom” when it’s really a drop in the bucket
  • Eye-popping 6-month wait for PG&E to flip on the lights at new developments
  • SF pays but no one stays: Rooms reserved for the unhoused remain empty 

🤠 Long Arm of the (Housing) Law

Like a frustrated parent dealing with a relentlessly insubordinate toddler, California Attorney General Rob Bonta sounded equal parts exasperated and annoyed announcing a lawsuit against the city of Elk Grove this week for stonewalling the production of sorely needed affordable housing. “You can’t ignore the law because it doesn’t suit you,” Bonta helpfully reminded intransigent city officials throughout the state. “They’ve resisted the law time and time again. They have left us no choice.”

At issue is the Oak Rose project, an affordable 66-unit, three-story structure on the east side of town near a bus line, shopping and a planned new library. Should it successfully navigate the quintessentially Californian thicket of politics, litigation and bureaucracy, Oak Rose would be the first project in the city to provide permanent housing and services for low-income families who had been homeless. Who wouldn’t want that? Elk Grove officials, evidently.

They can’t say they weren’t warned about what was coming. Bonta telegraphed his intent to sue in a letter to Elk Grove’s mayor last month. And if they thought he was bluffing, they should have seen teeth in the threat when Bonta slapped the city of Huntington Beach with a lawsuit for violating the state’s housing laws last month.

Elk Grove’s mayor denies that the city has been a bad actor, but Bonta was unequivocal in his assessment. “It’s wrong, it’s illegal, it’s discriminatory. They shouldn’t have done it,” Bonta said. “After discussion and multiple efforts, they continued to flout the law and here we are.”

Look out NIMBYville, CA; there’s a new sheriff in town.

Read the story

🤫 Everything you should know

- We’ll say it till we’re blue in the face: California needs 3.5 million more homes to meet our state’s housing needs. On average, California issues around 110,000 housing permits a year. At that rate it will take 31 years to reach our goal. That’s why the headline gracing the online frontpage of The Los Angeles Times is exciting at first blush: “Amid the population exodus, California saw housing construction boom during pandemic.” The numbers are in and in 2022 California netted 123,350 housing units in 2022, a 11.42% jump. As folks from the South would say, “bless their heart.”  Any increase in housing production is needed but even that 11% boost is nowhere near where we need to be. Let’s have a real boom that sends reporters into tailspins because that what we need to meet our state’s housing goals - LA Times

- In some sick joke played by the universe, new northern California housing – affordable housing at that – is having to wait 6 months to get electricity turned on by Pacific Gas & Electric. We can thank our state’s not-so-graceful transition to renewable energy. That, combined with “a troubled utility, a tight labor market and aging infrastructure” is creating a perfect storm that’s put a region in crisis. Within its territory, 319 commercial and multifamily buildings were awaiting electricity, with 95 locations waiting more than three months. - Politico

- Despite San Francisco being laser focused on reducing homelessness, 10 percent of the rooms reserved to get people off the streets remain vacant, and it’s not because there’s a shortage of need. The Aarti Hotel, in the Tenderloin, was at 50 percent vacancy, despite being in the area that has one of the largest homeless populations in the city. “About 60% were empty due to a slow and convoluted referral process operated by Mayor London Breed’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH), and because approved tenants were still gathering paperwork to move in or had declined a placement offered by the agency.” The analysis underscores that the homeless crisis exists not just because of a lack of housing. It’s wrap around services that are needed to make a dent in stemming homelessness. - San Francisco Chronicle

🏔️ Not Snow Fast!

Have plans to go camping at a State Park near Tahoe this Spring? The California Department of Parks and Rec said campgrounds will be closed until the unprecedented amount of snow melts away. Some areas still have 3-6 feet of snowpack. Hold tight until the snow melts and get ready for some roaring rivers thanks to all of this precipitation.

🎙️ Three questions with Joan “GPT4” Didion

How would you describe the state of contemporary California politics?

California's politics embody a paradox: idealism entwined with disillusionment, a mirage of progress grappling with gridlock and special interests, mirroring America's larger struggle with inequality.

What makes California so resilient in the face of crisis?

Resilience stems from a collective spirit, unwavering ambition, and an enduring belief in reinvention, even amid the shadows of crisis and uncertainty.

What’s your favorite California landscape?

The arid desert holds a particular allure, its vastness and desolation inviting contemplation, an eerie beauty that transcends time, whispering of life's impermanence.

(All answers courtesy of OpenAI’s GPT4 channeling the state’s most brilliant observer.)

💡10 Point to Fix Housing

The NCC is all about bold solutions. We released a 10-point plan for boosting home-building in California. Check it out and then share your thoughts on social media!

🌲Long Measuring Tape

Like the classic (and offensive) baby shower game, scientists are measuring the girth of some of the world’s biggest trees in Sequoia National Park.

Image of scientists climbing a Sequoia treet.