Dan Kalb, standing, is one of nine Democrats
running in the AD15 race this June.
–15TH ASSEMBLY DISTRICT–
Nearly seven years ago, the dissolution of redevelopment agencies in California significantly changed the ways local governments approved and built capital improvement projects. In turn, Gov. Jerry Brown‘s calculation also fomented a low-level rebellious streak in some East Bay cities who decried the lost of local control.
But Brown’s move is credited with helping pave the way for rehabilitating a hemorrhaging state treasury which instead of soaring deficits, today boasts robust surpluses. But the hankering for a return for the redevelopment agencies, especially to aid the push for new housing, has not left and was injected into the East Bay’s top political race this June, the wide-open campaign for the 15th Assembly District.
At a candidates forum last Wednesday in Oakland that focused exclusively on housing issues, Oakland Councilmember Dan Kalb strenuously backed the return to redevelopment agencies as a catalyst for helping local cities create desperately needed housing units.
“There’s a lot to do, but little things aren’t doing enough,” said Kalb. “We need to bring back redevelopment… It’s one of the solutions. We have to be honest about that.”
He added, if elected, he would introduce an assembly bill to reinstate redevelopment agencies, but with reforms to eliminate misuses of funding, a common gripe lodged by its critics. “It needs to be reformed. There was abuses and problems with it, but let’s bring it back with good oversight, jurisdiction, and transparency.”
Kalb is one of 10 candidates (9 Democrats) who have filed an intent to run for the East Bay seat being vacated by Assemblymember Tony Thurmond, who is instead campaigning this year for state superintendent of public instruction. The district includes Berkeley, Richmond, North Oakland, El Cerrito, Kensington, Albany, Hercules, San Pablo, Pinole.
Resuscitating redevelopment agencies was not the only specific proposal for alleviating the East Bay’s crushing housing crisis. Buffy Wicks, a former political consultant who worked closely in the Obama administration and has strongly ties to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, reeled off a number of policies proposals to boost affordable housing, including support for the $4 billion state housing bond, and the creation of a public infrastructure bank.
Wicks would also incentivize transit-oriented developments by tying construction to state funding for local transportation projects. But when asked later in the forum how she would cajole reticent local jurisdictions to generally build more housing, she proposed the state withholding transportation funds as a stick.
The comment led to the lone policy dispute among any of candidates Wednesday night. Kalb harshly dismissed Wicks’ suggestion, saying the idea would have no chance in the state assembly, although he later said he could be amendable to it.
“I have to be honest with you there is zero chance that bill is going to pass. The idea that cities and counties and the people who represent them are going to allow their cities, their communities to put at risk their transportation funding, it’s just not going to happen,” said Kalb. “It may be a good idea, I might vote for it, but there’s zero chance it’s going to pass and we have to find other sticks.”
Wicks and Kalb are generally viewed as the top contenders in a crowded field, although no candidate has come close to separating from the pack. Richmond Councilmember Jovanka Beckles is also a strong contender for the top two June primary, as is Berkeley Councilmember Ben Bartlett.
Beckles’ ideas were far more aggressive than most of her opponents. She would slash and burn state housing laws, such as the Ellis Act and Costa-Hawkins Act, which many progressives believe has stymied affordable housing from being built in the Bay Area. Beckles said she supports taxing AirBNB, blithely adding, “Those folks are making too much money.” Later, Beckles boasted as being the only candidate in the field who has brought rent control to their city.
But the trend in Sacramento continues to side with giving the state power to enforce new housing requirements for cities. Bartlett echoed this sentiment, calling out wealthy cities like Lafayette, which is not in the district, for falling to approve affordable housing. He would introduce legislation such as a carbon tax on single-family home zones to fund affordable housing and a cap-and-trade mechanism “to make the Lafayette’s of the world to contribute, or pay, or integrate,” he said.
Often viewing the issue in historical terms, Bartlett said African American in the East Bay have been victims of redlining and “resource hoarding” when it comes to housing.
“If there’s a food shortage and someone is found to be hoarding rice and bread, there would be incredible penalties,” said Bartlett. “Now what theses communities have been doing for decades is hoarding land and land is the first basis of wealth.”