CASA Compact - Where do Voters Fit In?

We Told You So

Is your kid’s playground in peril. See Compact #8 and decide.

Is your kid’s playground in peril. See Compact #8 and decide.

Way back in 2016, when Measure AA was on the ballot of all Bay Area Counties, Nine-County Coalition participants forcefully expressed concern. Measure AA was regionalism’s advance into its next phase: normalizing region-wide tax proposals and other ballot measures that do not take into account the wishes of voters in individual cities and counties.

Now we have an exponentially bigger case of the Measure AA syndrome – MTC/ABAG’s Committee to House the Bay Area (CASA), and the CASA Compact: An Emergency Policy Package to Confront the Housing Crisis in the San Francisco Bay Area.

This title alone reveals CASA’s intent of implementing regional policy over city and county policy in the name of a crisis that CASA has declared an emergency. The compact further declares that the emergency will last 15 years.

How the Bay Area acquired its housing crisis has passed into a history not to be considered by the new deciders. We are told we now must focus on the narrative that for decades, the Bay Area failed to build “enough” housing. Now, we have a crisis, the crisis could be called an emergency, and all the provisions of CASA need to be enabled by state law.

On December 12, 2018, the 21-member steering group of CASA approved the CASA Compact, as expected.

Extremely Brief Summary of the CASA Compact

Here is a brief summary of the 10 provisions of CASA, called compacts. We will refrain from calling them commandments.

#1. Just Cause Eviction Policy: Specifies what is a just cause eviction, and provides for landlords to pay tenants evicted through no-fault of their own (e.g. Ellis Act) a relocation fee (amount not yet determined).

#2. Emergency Rent Cap: Establishes a Bay Area-wide emergency rent cap that limits annual increases in rent to a reasonable amount, and can be extended after the emergency period. (Note this is a Bay Area-wide mandate. Voters rejected repeal of Costa-Hawkins in the November 2018 election.)

#3. Emergency Rent Assistance and Access to Legal Counsel: Provides an amount capped at $5,000 to $10,000 per tenancy to individuals facing eviction that have an urgent, temporary “financial gap.” For low-income tenants facing eviction, provides access to free legal counsel. (Note that non-payment constitutes cause for justified eviction.)

#4. Remove Regulatory Barriers to Accessory Dwelling Units: Extends current Bay Area “best practices” regarding accessory dwelling units (Granny apartments, backyard house extensions) to every jurisdiction in the region. Amends existing state ADU law to remove regulatory barriers. Allows for multiple ADUs in multi-family homes.

#5. Minimum Zoning near Transit: Along high-quality bus service, residential uses up to 36 feet tall within ½ miles of bus stops. Along major transit stops, residential uses up to 55 feet (75 feet with density bonus) within ¼ mile radius of rail stations and ferry terminals. (Note this sound amazingly similar to SB 827.)

#6. Good Government Reforms to Housing Approval Process: Establishes standards for the entitlement and permitting of zoning-compliant residential projects. Requires transparency and consistency in how residential impact fees are set and enforced.

#7. Expedited Approval and Financial Incentives for Select Housing: Ensures timely approval of zoning-compliant housing projects. Creates financial incentives for developers to offset cost of providing income-restricted housing and of paying higher wages to construction workers. Incentives could include 15 years of property-tax increment abatement, density bonus up to 35%, reduced parking up 50%, relief from strict liability standards for ownership housing.

#8. Unlock Public Land for Affordable Housing: Requires response to issues of charter cities and creation of definitions of surplus and underutilized land. Requires all cities, counties, and state agencies to create a full inventory of publicly owned sites and report them to the California Department of Housing and Community Development. Requires HCD to enforce a revised State Surplus Land Act. (Note that the definition of “publicly owned land” could change to place land owned by cities and counties under the control of the state, as happened to the definition of charter cities.)

#9. Funding and Financing of CASA: Estimates the need to raise 1.5 billion in new revenue annually from taxes on vacant property, taxes on property owners, parcel taxes on residential and commercial property, commercial linkage fees, employer gross receipt taxes, employer head taxes, ¼ cent sales tax, and general obligation bonds.

#10. Regional Housing Enterprise: Establishes a regional agency through an act of legislation to seek voter approval to impose taxes for housing, collect new revenue, disburse the revenue, purchase, lease, and hold land.

Conclusion

The CASA Compact pushes up one more rung regional governance in which cities and counties have little or no say. Voters still do have a say when time comes to vote for or against the taxes necessitated by CASA. However, as we noted both in the case of Measure AA and in the case of Regional Measure 3, it has now become acceptable for tax proposals to pass based on the combined vote of all nine counties. So, expect an avalanche of taxes unless different approaches to housing are developed and successfully promoted.