Column: Housing Likely to Highlight the 2022 Ballot

By Tom Elias, Palisades News Columnist

One thing has been inevitable ever since extreme liberals in the California Legislature led by Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco began a concerted assault three years ago on single family housing all over this state, intending to eliminate what they love to denigrate as “urban sprawl.”

Their thinking – really a prejudice against all but the most dense of housing situations – is that people shouldn’t have space around them and that all neighborhoods should be open to anybody, even those who lack the funds to buy or rent there.

Wiener and cohorts like Democratic state Senate President Toni Atkins of San Diego and longtime Democratic Assemblyman Richard Bloom of Santa Monica are near to winning in the Legislature. They never came closer than in the dying minutes of the 2020 legislative session.

That’s when their latest bill, known as SB 1120, died – but only for the most technical of reasons. The bill would have authorized up to four units on every single-family zoned lot in California whether or not local people or governments liked it. This lost only because time expired on the session before the state Senate managed to conform language in its version of the bill to what had already passed the Assembly.

So it’s certain this measure will be back with a different number in the legislative session starting in early December. Almost as sure is a rerun of SB 902, also with a different number. This one would have allowed buildings up to eight stories almost everywhere in single-family zoned areas.

Odds are good both measures will pass next year because they are backed by developers, building trade unions and so-called progressives who believe without evidence that dense housing is “greener” than spacious living areas.

The same folks persist in believing new high-rise residential buildings should be approved without parking spaces previously required because almost everyone living in them will ride mass transit. Because these folks apparently have not examined bus and light rail ridership numbers both before and during the coronavirus pandemic, they are about to inflict constant horn-honking contests for parking spaces on many currently quiet areas.

What the extremists ignore is that the issue will ultimately be taken out of the hands of the Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom, who usually supports anything to make more of the state look like ultra-dense San Francisco, where he once was mayor.

This will happen immediately if legislators pass something like SB 902 or SB 1120 and Newsom then signs off. Any similar measure will instantly be subjected to a referendum campaign to overturn it, and the moment a referendum petition drive gathers enough signatures to make the next general election ballot – 2022 – whatever the new law or laws may say will be suspended.

Then it will be up to the people, who have made most of the important political decisions in this state for the last 50 years, since Los Angeles lawyer Roger Diamond revived the once-moribund initiative process by winning a lawsuit allowing petition carriers to operate at shopping centers and big box stores.

Two such referenda were to be voted on in this fall’s election: Propositions 22 and 25, one aiming to overturn AB5, a law forcing so-called gig economy companies to make regular employees with full benefits out of their contract workers, the other to nix a 2019 law banning cash bail and replacing it with judges making flight- and harm-risk evaluations of every person accused of a crime.

Two years ago, an effort to overturn a state gas tax increase lost on a 53-47 percent vote, while four years ago voters approved a ban on single-use plastic grocery bags by rejecting a referendum against it.

Referenda can be confusing because it often takes a yes vote to nix a targeted law. But the results indicate that by the time they cast ballots, most voters understand this.

So it will be in two years also, if voters at last get to express themselves on some of the insensitive, nonsensical housing laws that ideologues in the Legislature want to employ to change the lifestyle most embodied in the California Dream.

Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It,” is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

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