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State Lawmakers In Tough Spot With Gov. Brown's Low-Income Housing Deal

SACRAMENTO (CBS/AP) -- California legislative leaders seeking a big influx of money for low-income housing got Gov. Jerry Brown on board, but there's a catch: Lawmakers will have to approve Brown's contested proposal to speed approval for developments that include affordable units.

The plan is aimed at quickly increasing the supply of housing. But some neighborhood activists are furious at the prospect of losing a voice in approving construction that they fear will change the character of their communities.

The budget compromise was reached Thursday between Brown, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon. Rendon and de Leon are both Los Angeles Democrats.

As part of the roughly $122 billion budget deal, they agreed to spend $400 million to build housing for people with low incomes, as long as lawmakers can approve Brown's plan to ease development restrictions.

"Four hundred million bucks is nothing. They're giving away the store for nothing," San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin said.

Peskin says the governor's proposal may be good for cities that have lagged in building affordable units, but San Francisco is not one of them. Voters there approved a measure this week that allows the Board of Supervisors to double the amount of affordable housing built by market-rate developers to 25 percent for certain projects.

San Francisco, notorious for its limited housing stock and high home prices, is also known for lengthy development timelines that allow for multiple reviews and opportunities for objection.

Brown's proposal would allow developers to sidestep those local review processes if their projects already meet neighborhood zoning requirements such as height and density standards, and if a portion of units include income restrictions.

Opponents of the proposal include dozens of worker, immigrant, environmental and tenant groups throughout California. They say forcing development "by right" is deeply undemocratic, giving real estate interests too much power over vulnerable residents who could see their homes razed for retail centers that lack sufficient affordable housing units.

The agreement to marry housing money with speeding development places lawmakers in a tough spot. Limiting the influence of organized neighborhood groups may not be popular with a vocal bloc of voters.

Likewise, Brown's willingness to spend heavily on housing marks a notable concession for a governor who's been both skeptical of the value of housing subsidies and eager to save for a recession he warns is coming.

In releasing his own budget proposal last month, Brown said housing subsidies benefit a small number of people at a high price.

Highlighting Brown's caution on new spending commitments, state Controller Betty Yee said Friday that May tax revenue fell short of expectations for the second consecutive month, due largely to a spike in corporate tax refunds. Still, the state's $102.57 billion in revenue for the fiscal year to date exceeded expectations by 1.7 percent.

To win support from lawmakers, Brown may have to increase the housing funds beyond $400 million or scale back his ambitions for new development rules.

Sen. Mark Leno, a San Francisco Democrat who's taken a skeptical view of Brown's proposal on development, said whittling it into an acceptable plan will take months but he believes it's possible.

"A one-size fits all (policy) for such a significant change in land use could prove to be problematic, so we need to get it really right," Leno said Thursday evening as a budget conference committee approved the deal.

Gabriel Metcalf, president of the Bay Area nonprofit urban policy think tank SPUR, supports the concept. He said Friday that locals would not be shut out of planning -- but they would be limited to input on overall neighborhood development, and not on individual projects.

"We are extremely supportive of this concept," he said. "The basic idea is that we will stop the haggling over every single project that wants to add housing and we will instead focus our energy on bigger scale planning questions."

Others were less enthusiastic. Laura Raymond, campaign director for the Alliance for Community Transit-Los Angeles, said housing legislation should produce more affordable housing units and make them even lower cost.

"But we need the solutions to also safeguard against displacement, protect the environment and ensure that the jobs produced by our development boom are providing for local communities."

© Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed

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