SACRAMENTO — Landmark legislation to address the affordable housing crisis and to create a “sanctuary state” for undocumented immigrants were among the bills that cleared key hurdles in the California Legislature on the frenetic final day of this year’s session, either going to the governor or awaiting a final vote before midnight.
The “sanctuary state” debate on Friday grew emotional, bringing lawmakers on both sides of the issue to tears. Supporters said the law aimed at limiting communication between California police officers and federal agents is needed now more than ever.
“My grandparents came here without papers. My father was the first of our family to be born here,” said Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno. “We believe in the American dream, and this bill today helps some of us believe California is a safe place for immigrants.”
Senate Bill 54, the immigration bill, book-ended the busy legislative session — introduced on the very first day and passed on the last. But the housing bills, lawmakers said, were years in the making. After years of havoc caused by budget-busting rents and runaway home prices, a collection of affordable-housing negotiated with Gov. Jerry Brown passed the Legislature. Others awaited a final vote late Friday, but were expected to follow.
Two of the bills generated funding for affordable housing construction, while others would coax — or, in some cases, force — cities to approve more housing developments, adding teeth to existing laws that city governments have found it easy to skirt. The goal for many of the bills, such as Senate Bill 35, is to tackle the housing shortage by making it faster and cheaper for developers to build projects that meet a city’s zoning requirements — which Brown has long insisted on including.
“For millions of people it is next to impossible to buy a house or even find an apartment they can afford,” Brown said in a statement Friday. “These 15 bills will spur the building of more housing and increase the number of Californians who can actually afford to buy or rent.”
With much suspense and arm-twisting, the Assembly on Thursday night narrowly passed the most controversial of the housing bills: Senate Bill 2, a measure to create a permanent funding source for affordable housing by creating a new real estate fee. The last two holdouts — Assemblymen Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, and Adrin Nazarian, D-Van Nuys — created an hour of drama by waiting to cast their deciding votes, at one point disappearing on the balcony outside the chambers.
“For any of you who are not yet ready to vote for this bill,” said Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, who has championed the housing effort, “I ask you to do one thing — to think about the face of your constituents.”
One Republican lawmaker, Assemblyman Brian Maienschein, of San Diego, supported SB 2.
“To do nothing for me is not an option,” he said. “I wouldn’t even be considering this if we didn’t have a state of emergency in the city of San Diego” over Hepatitis A deaths in homeless people, he said.
Carried by Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, SB 2 would collect an estimated $200-$300 million per year in real-estate document fees. The state estimates the bill would generate more than $5 billion over the next five years once the new fees are matched with federal, local and private matching funds. And unlike in past years, the powerful California Association of Realtors supports the bill.
Silicon Valley Sen. Jim Beall’s proposed $4 billion housing bond, Senate Bill 3, also passed both houses with a two-thirds vote. He said that with federal tax credits and matching funds, the bond — if approved by voters in a future election — would generate $20 billion for affordable-housing construction.
But Republicans were reluctant to support the funding measures.
“We can’t spend our way out of this problem with government spending,” Assemblyman Jay Obernolte, R-Hesperia, said during the floor debate.
Republicans also fought Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León’s “sanctuary state” bill, SB 54, warning their colleagues that the legislation was dangerous and unnecessary, making it harder to deport criminals.
“The time for political posturing is over, guys,” said Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Yuba City. “It’s time to look at what this bill does, what it really does, and reject it.”
But the immigration bill passed the Assembly 50-26, mostly on a party-line vote. As of early Friday night, the Senate — which passed it earlier in the year — had not heard it for final approval, but it is expected to pass. If it does, it goes next to Brown, who asked — and got — amendments in the final weeks.
SB 54 aims to restrict collaboration between local law enforcement and federal agents, but it does allow police to communicate with the feds about people convicted within the past 15 years of hundreds of crimes. It was amended Monday to include a much longer list of exceptions than originally proposed — over 800 — as well as changes that would allow federal agents to interview inmates in jails and access state databases.
The California Police Chiefs Association is now neutral on the bill, but the California State Sheriffs’ Association still opposes it.
“Our overarching concern remains that limiting local law enforcement’s ability to communicate and cooperate with federal law enforcement officers endangers public safety,” the sheriffs association said in a statement this week.
Democrats argued that the bill would heighten public safety by building trust between undocumented immigrants and police, encouraging crime victims to come forward.
Some framed the argument by telling stories of their undocumented constituents. Many, they said, have been afraid to go to school or to take their sick children to the hospital since President Donald Trump — who promised widespread deportations as part of a crackdown on illegal immigration — has been president.
“It’s real fear,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, D-San Diego. “The kind that makes people stop you on the street and well up in tears.”
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