Pleasanton Council talks state legislation with Bauer-Kahan

by Jeremy Walsh / Pleasanton Weekly

The State Legislature is set to reconvene after the winter recess on Monday, and the Pleasanton City Council recently received a recap of relevant legislative work in Sacramento from city staff and the Tri-Valley's Assembly member, Rebecca Bauer-Kahan.

The hour-long discussion last month featured an overview of outcomes of key 2019 bills on which the council took a formal position, reflections from the Orinda Democrat on her original legislation during her freshman year and a look ahead at topics expected to dominate the lawmakers' hearings in 2020 -- likely led by housing.

"The conversation I'm pushing really hard with the Bay Area caucus and my colleagues is a much larger focus on the jobs-housing balance question, and not thinking of our region as this nine-county megaregion where you build a giant campus on the Peninsula and then you expect us to build the housing and just putting more and more people on the road heading in one direction," Bauer-Kahan said during the Dec. 3 council meeting.

"We have to rethink that because it's breaking people here -- our quality of life is suffering, and our environment is suffering because those people are all sitting in traffic," she told the council.

Bauer-Kahan also fielded questions from council members on housing and other topics.

"One of the concerns that we hear a lot from our constituents is that the state continues to want us to build housing but is not willing to chip in on the infrastructure. Do you see the state changing direction at all?" Mayor Jerry Thorne asked.

Bauer-Kahan pointed to Gov. Gavin Newsom's veto of Senate Bill 5 -- legislation she and the Pleasanton council supported that would have provided up to $2 billion in annual state funding for affordable housing, but that the governor rejected citing fiscal constraints.

She also acknowledged discussions are already underway in Democrat circles in Sacramento to continue moving toward reducing development impact fees to spur new housing projects.

"For them to start to take away the fees that help support our schools and infrastructure is not the direction we should be going in, and I think it is a giveaway to developers, to be frank with you, and a takeaway from the cities," Bauer-Kahan said.

On the housing front, the assemblywoman said she expects debates to pick up again very soon about SB 50, a bill by San Francisco Democrat Sen. Scott Wiener that aims to spur rapid housing development by relaxing standards for some residential projects and overriding local zoning regulations near transit corridors and job hubs.

The legislation, which was reclassified as a two-year bill after its introduction in 2019, has been criticized by many suburban leaders as pushing an unfair "one size fits all" approach to housing solutions.

The Pleasanton council took a formal position to oppose the original SB50 unless amended and Bauer-Kahan said she'd continue to advocate against the bill. Wiener's legislation has also recently received opposition from some local leaders and advocates in big cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco.

In all, of the 2,625 bills introduced by the State Legislature in 2019, the City Council took a position on 26 of them -- 16 of which were housing bills. Eight were signed into law, 17 became two-year bills and one was vetoed.

Of the housing bills that Pleasanton tracked closely and were ultimately passed into law, a handful focused on easing development standards and regulations on accessory dwelling units (ADUs), also known as "granny units." State leaders see new ADUs as a way to increase the affordable housing stock.

Others had to do with streamlining the public review process for new housing developments. City staff honed in on SB 330, a new law that sunsets in 2025 with provisions such as a new "preliminary application" process, a limit of five public hearings or less and a ban on any general plan or zoning changes (including voter initiatives) that would reduce or eliminate the ability to construct housing.

Bauer-Kahan gave a brief rundown of her original legislation from the year, with 10 of 13 bills making it to the governor's desk. Those signed into law covered topics such as the procurement process for local public agencies on transportation projects, gun violence prevention and food allergen safety. The only bill vetoed aimed to support preservation of Tesla Park outside Livermore.

Looking ahead to 2020, Bauer-Kahan said that in addition to housing, key issues she'll focus on include state funding for the Valley Link project, support for fire suppression and prevention, and the future of PG&E.

Niccolo De Luca, senior director of the Tri-Valley municipalities' consultant firm, Townsend Public Affairs, also highlighted important legislative topics for the next year.

With housing at the top, the list included emergency preparedness, PG&E bankruptcy, vaping, mental health funding, developer impact fees, Proposition 13 reform and a proposed "Drought, Parks and Climate Change Bond."