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‘Brighter days ahead’: North Coast recovery ‘strong,’ despite challenges, legislator says

California and the North Bay in particular face lingering economic challenges from the pandemic and ongoing problems with the cost of housing, but there are “brighter days ahead,” said a North Coast state legislator Wednesday.

State Sen. Mike McGuire, a Democrat representing the 2nd Senate District stretching from Marin County to Del Norte County, aggressively rebutted media reports about problems with California’s economy. Rising homelessness and crime, declining population and increasing business exits or closures have grabbed headlines in the past few years.

“We are looking strong with our recovery,” McGuire told the Sonoma State University student center audience, speaking remotely from Sacramento at North Bay Business Journal’s 29th annual Economic Outlook Conference. “And I want to thank all the employers as well as the workforce who are welcoming folks to the North Bay region. California, we are still America's economic engine, despite what some cable pundits may say.”

Housing, especially what’s affordable for workers, remains one of the biggest challenges to California’s economy, McGuire said. He decried the situation where a minimum-wage worker, two-thirds of whom in the state are women, has to hold down multiple jobs to afford average rent in North Bay counties.

He pointed to efforts in Sacramento to direct more money to build lower-cost housing and remove impediments to projects.

“We can't solve this housing crisis simply by throwing money at it,” McGuire said. “We have to get housing built faster in this state.”

That includes $3 billion allocated for “gap funding” to acquire or build multifamily housing. Three new laws he singled out were Senate bills 7 (shortening court delays for environmental challenges to housing projects), 9 (up to four homes on a single-family lot by right, bypassing local discretionary approvals) and 10 (up to 10 units on an infill lot by right).

Particularly helpful, McGuire said, will be SB 7. It allows proponents of housing projects over $15 million to get their day in court on California Environmental Quality Act lawsuits within 270 days of filing. Before the law, it could take up to four years for a substantial hearing, he said.

“So many people talk about the need for housing, but when housing gets close to them, they buck,” McGuire said. “And we can't keep moving forward with the status quo.”

The state also is taking action on homelessness, he said.

“The homelessness crisis is appalling, and it's unacceptable,” McGuire said. “After decades of inaction by the state of California, the state is advancing record resources into cities and counties to help them combat this crisis that exists on our streets each and every night, in big cities and small in every corner of the state.”

He noted that California’s $14 billion allocated to fight the problem is working down into local area. That includes $100 million to Sonoma County and its cities for permanent housing with adjoining supportive services, $50 million for Marin County to build 200 units, and an affordable housing project set to be built in Clearlake in Lake County.

McGuire highlighted action in Sacramento on other issues:

  • Wildfires: $1.5 billion has been allocated to fuel management, preparedness and 1,125 hires of firefighters and related staff. He pointed to the stress of multiple massive fires on existing staff, with about 50,000 calls to state mental health hotlines from firefighters in the past three years.
  • Broadband: California got $6 billion from federal infrastructure funds for a “massive,” “game changer” buildout of the “middle mile” of high-speed internet connections in the state in the next 24 months. The goal is to run the lines along the shoulders of Highway 101 and other thoroughfares in the state. Communities would link to that line, starting with underconnected communities such as coastal Marin and Sonoma counties first. “High-speed broadband is no longer a luxury. It has to be a right,” McGuire said.
  • Climate change: $25 billion is allocated for measures such as greening of the energy grid, upgrading transmission lines to reach solar and offshore wind power and preparing coastal communities for “managed retreat” from projected sea-level rise.
  • Assembly Bill 5 and independent contractors: Another “cleanup” bill is expected to be introduced this legislative session to exempt more industries and categories of independent contractors from being classified as employees.
  • Ukraine: Legislation is pending for California’s public employee pension system to exit about $2 billion in investments in Russian-owned companies and government entities.

Jeff Quackenbush covers wine, construction and real estate. Before the Business Journal, he wrote for Bay City News Service in San Francisco. He has a degree from Walla Walla University. Reach him at jquackenbush@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4256.

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