San Jose: Gov. Newsom fast-tracks housing, economic projects with new bill
Gov. Gavin Newsom in San Jose on May 20 to sign a new bill that's expected to fast-track affordable housing development. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

Gov. Gavin Newsom joined San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and local labor leaders Thursday in downtown San Jose to sign legislation to fast-track affordable housing developments.

The legislation, Senate Bill 7, will allow cities and developers to move affordable housing projects quicker through an environmental review process, often a long procedure fraught with red tape. SB 7, co-authored by State Senator Dave Cortese and Senate President Pro Tem Toni G. Atkins, will allow zoning changes for denser housing and expedites the environmental review process.

“This bill represents the best of California,” Newsom said. “We need to recognize that we need to do more and do better to curry these kinds of investments.”

SB 7 passed in the State Senate in March and in the Assembly on May 10. Newsom said he was eager to sign the bill “20 minutes” after the Assembly passed it.

The planned Google Downtown West project in downtown San Jose—the tech company’s massive 80-acre expansion into the core of San Jose—is expected to use provisions from the bill to build quickly. Google’s planned campus, which will face approval from the San Jose City Council on Tuesday, will include up to 4,000 housing units. Those units form part of the 13,519 units of housing presented in the surrounding Diridon Station Area Plan.

“This legislation, SB 7 … defeats many of the false narratives about California and our valley,” Liccardo said. “About California not being able to get red tape out of the way to make big things happen, to build the affordable housing we need.”

The effort will look to dig into the state and county’s housing crisis. Both Santa Clara County and San Jose have tried numerous ways to combat the housing crisis with affordable housing. Earlier this month, the county Board of Supervisors voted to allocate $350 million to build affordable housing and quickly-built housing for homeless people amid the pandemic. Meanwhile, San Jose has mulled solutions for its own affordable housing shortages, such as densifying single-family neighborhoods.

Cortese said he was proud to co-author the bill, which adds to Assembly Bill 900, a previous 2011 bill that streamlined environmental requirements for housing projects that cost more than $100 million.

“This bill will build on the successes of AB 900 and tackle many of the greatest challenges we face as a state: climate change, our housing crisis, recovering from the current economic crisis brought on by the pandemic,” Cortese said. “All of those issues will be positively affected by SB 7.”

SB 7 will drop the project cost requirement to $15 million and also require that each housing project will provide at least 15% affordable housing.

Local labor advocates have long pushed for bypassing environmental analysis as the region’s housing prices continue to spiral upward and housing becomes less affordable for low-income and unhoused residents.

“California needs solutions to address economic inequality and the lack of affordable homes,” Jean Cohen, executive officer of the South Bay Labor Council, told San José Spotlight. “This legislation creates a clear pathway for increased housing production and good construction jobs.”

Officials said Thursday that the new Google development is expected to bring 5,700 prevailing wage construction jobs. The entire project is slated to bring some 20,000 new jobs to San Jose.

Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice president of global affairs, said the project will bring a “new chapter” in economic and equitable development.

“It will be one-of-a-kind,” Walker said of the project, adding he was “very excited” about SB 7. “The opportunities that come from more jobs, more housing, more space for small business will be a model, we hope, for communities around the state.”

Newsom approved $200 million in additional funding in October for Project Homekey, a program to house the homeless in interim housing centers. He praised three new emergency interim housing centers in San Jose that used the funds.

But one of the housing projects, praised by state and local leaders during the pandemic, is the site of wage theft and hazardous conditions, according to interviews and documents obtained by San José Spotlight, calling into question the efficacy of building some housing projects so quickly. Such housing projects aim to put people in homes in months rather than years, which both Newsom and Liccardo hope will become a model for future fast-track housing developments.

Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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