In this post, we try to answer some questions about the CASA compact.
Q: What is the CASA compact?
The Committee to House the Bay Area (CASA) compact was developed over the past year and a half by committees composed of advocates for low-income residents, non-profit and market rate developers, labor, business and environmental groups and city representatives. The meetings were public and included extensive public comment.
The CASA compact includes ten elements related to renter protections, expanding the supply of housing and raises fund to support housing for low and moderate income residents. The ten elements represent a compromise among groups with different interests in an attempt to address the region’s severe housing challenges.
Q: How does the CASA compact relate to SB50?
Many of the ten elements in the CASA compact require state legislation. One element--expanding housing near major transit centers--is at the heart of SB 50, which is still being negotiated. Most other elements of the compact will be implemented by non-SB 50 state and regional action.
Q: Critics say that most people who live near transit do not use it. Is that true?
Currently transit ridership is relatively low from residents living near major transit stops but that misses the point. One, large centers are being developed around CalTrain and BART stations so ridership will grow in the future. Imagine living in Palo Alto and having a job at Google in downtown San Jose near the Diridon station. The train offers a quicker, cheaper trip to a walkable destination. Two, even if you still need to drive to work, housing near major transit centers sure beats commuting from Tracy. Shortening commute trips even if still by car is a benefit to residents and the environment. Three, if you live near a transit center, you live near a place with shopping and services. Many non work trips become walkable or bikeable.
Q: Critics say smaller cities were not heard. Is this true?
With 100+ cities in the region, not all cities could be represented on the committee. But public comment was invited at all meetings and at the last meeting as the compact adoption was being voted on, several city representatives came and expressed concerns. They were heard but did not convince the committee that their concerns should prevent adoption of the compact. The committee felt that the regional imperatives of the housing crisis required bold policies like those in the compact. The cities views were incorporated to the extent they did not get in the way of the compacts overriding goals.
Q: Critics say that the compact and SB 50 destroy local control. Is that true?
The intent of the compact and SB 50 is to make it easier to build housing and to prevent local zoning and rules in some circumstances from avoiding compliance with state, regional and local housing goals. So it is likely that SB 50 when and if adopted would allow intervention when housing goals are not met.
However, public health and safety and equal justice goals overrode local control regularly. Cities are not allowed to override laws regarding tobacco and alcohol use or allow residents to drive without a license or allow discrimination against certain groups in housing or employment. Palo Alto cannot allow 10 year olds to vote or make it illegal to pay state taxes. “Local control” has clearly failed to build sufficient housing--cities, including Palo Alto, routinely miss their housing targets and California ranks 49th of 50 states in houses per capita.
The law has a special carve out for “sensitive communities” that enables local governments to propose housing plans that align with the broader goals of the legislation and offers 5 years to developer those plans before the state mandated zoning changes kick in. This seems like a reasonable incentive to encourage cities to tackle the housing crisis while minimizing the risks of potential displacement.
In all cases where the state overrides local authority, the case comes down to determining how to achieve the broader social good.