Skinner Would Support Pause on New Housing in Fire-Prone Areas 

Plus, wine industry helps kill Wieckowski recycling bill, and house votes to rescind Iraq War authorization.

click to enlarge "The smoke plume from the fast-moving Woolsey Fire encroaching on Malibu on November 9, 2018, as residents evacuate along the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH).

Photo by Cyclonebiscuit-Creative Commons

"The smoke plume from the fast-moving Woolsey Fire encroaching on Malibu on November 9, 2018, as residents evacuate along the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH).

During a floor debate on Senate Bill 50, the ultimately unsuccessful legislation that would have made it easier to build housing in California near transit, East Bay state Sen. Nancy Skinner said she would support a housing moratorium in areas across the state at risk of wildfires.

Her apparently hypothetical comments came in response to Democratic state Sen. Henry Stern of Calabasas, who lost his home in the 2018 Woolsey fire last year. He feared SB 50 would encourage greater density in fire-prone areas. "I can't in good conscience support this bill today knowing that I'm making the problem worse," he said.

Skinner responded, adding that the bill, authored by state Sen. Scott Wiener to promote greater housing density around transportation hubs, included flexibility for local governments to restrict new housing in these potential danger zones.

"I would support a bill that would put a moratorium on building in most high-risk fire areas," Skinner said, directing her comments to Stern. No bill calling for a moratorium currently exists. But she cautioned such a bill would be strongly opposed, for different reasons, by the same groups who oppose SB 50.

"The entire League of Cities would oppose such a bill and almost every entity that now opposes 50 would oppose such a bill," she said. "So I think it is unfair to conflate this bill with increasing fire risk."

Skinner then reiterated the negative response a moratorium would receive. "You watch. That would be so controversial," she said.

SB 50 failed in the state Senate last Wednesday, falling several votes short of passage to the Assembly. A second vote on Thursday rendered the same fate for SB 50.

But Skinner, one of SB 50's biggest supporters, argued for its approval. In her speech on the senate floor, Skinner urged for the need to quickly increase the supply of new housing in the state.

"We have a serious housing shortage in California," she said. "While that shortage alone is not the sole cause of our very high cost of housing, it is the most significant cause." Areas like the Bay Area, where job growth is highest and is often coupled with a dearth of new housing, is where exorbitant home and rental prices are the highest, she said.

Several decades of exclusionary zoning across the state also helped create the current housing crisis, Skinner said.

"That downzoning resulted in exclusive neighborhoods," she said. "It resulted in the situation where those neighborhoods with the best schools, the best parks, the best amenities, and where fewer and fewer people can live."


Wieckowski Recycling Bill Opposed by Wineries Fails in Senate

California's recycling system is in crisis, as the market for all types of reusable refuse is disappearing. Nonetheless, a bill authored by state Sen. Bob Wieckowski that would have put the onus on the beverage industry to run the state's recycling program, failed in the State Senate last week.

The legislation was fiercely opposed by the state's wine and spirits industries. A notable provision in the bill would have removed a long-standing exemption for wine and spirits producers from participating in the state's recycling program.

Senate Bill 372 was not without risk to Wieckowski's bid for an Alameda County Board of Supervisors seat in the upcoming March primary. District 1 includes Livermore, which has a well-established wine industry. But Wieckowski pulled no punches on the State Senate floor.

"Let's finally step up to the wine industry and make them be the environmental stewards they claim to be," Wieckowski said. No carve outs for special interests were included in the bill, he added.

"We can continue to succumb to well-heeled special interests and do nothing and let a failed program fail," Wieckowski said. "We continue a system where the wine industry, curbside waste haulers, and distributors continue to receive special favors from us at the expense of the consumers, or we can finally put consumers first."

Under current law, the state's redemption fee on beverage containers is used to fund the its recycling program. When a customer remits the containers at redemption centers, they typically receive half the fee in return.

But because of China's new policy to restrict the importation of recycling materials, many redemption centers have closed and local cities, including several in the East Bay, have struggled to keep low monthly recycling bills for residents.

In addition, because wine and beer bottles are exempt from the program, money to pay for other recycling is being left by the wayside, state Sen. Nancy Skinner said.

But Wieckowski's colleagues disagreed. The final vote Wednesday was 17-10, four votes shy of passage to the Assembly. Wieckowski and Skinner voted in support, while fellow East Bay Democratic state Sen. Steve Glazer did not vote.

Each year, Californians consume 975 million bottles of wine and spirits.


House Approves Lee and Khanna Bills Seeking to Limit Presidential War Powers

The House of Representatives approved legislation authored by Rep. Barbara Lee on Thursday that would repeal the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force that led to the war in Iraq.

A bill, introduced by Rep. Ro Khanna that withholds military spending for any military conflict with Iran without congressional consent, also passed the House on Thursday.

The vote for each bill was along party lines. However, 11 Republicans joined in support of Lee's repeal, while four backed Khanna's "No War Against Iran Act."


In Other News ...

JPMorgan Chase is pledging $22 million in low-interest loans and grants to help the region's affordable housing crunch, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. ... Oakland Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas said she is formulating an ordinance that would allow tenants the right to purchase their homes in the event the landlord intends to sell, the Chronicle reported. ... The Berkeley City Council will decide whether to allow up to 25 RVs to use specific lots in the city for overnight parking, Berkeleyside reported. ... Oakland moved to clear out Union Point Park, where a waterfront homeless encampment on the Embarcadero had grown, KGO-TV reported. The city plans next to remove the sprawling homeless encampment near the Home Depot on Alameda Avenue in Oakland. ...

Good luck deciphering exactly what Sen. Dianne Feinstein told the Los Angeles Times about her view of President Trump's impeachment trial. The paper initially suggested that Feinstein was leaning toward acquitting Trump, until the heads of California progressives nearly exploded. She later said her comments were misunderstood, Yahoo! News reported. ... Sen. Bernie Sanders is continuing to surge in California a week before voters receive vote-by-mail ballots in advance of the Mar. 3 presidential primary, the Times reported. Sanders has support of 26 percent of California voters. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has dropped to 20 percent. Joe Biden sits at 15 percent. ... Iowans voted for a Democratic nominee, but at press time we didn't yet know how. ...

The four schools that make up the Peralta Community College District will be placed on probation by the state's accrediting commission, the Chron reported. Last summer, the state warned that the district — which is made up of Berkeley City College, College of Alameda, Laney College, and Merritt College — is at risk of insolvency. ... Basic life skills like, uh, feeding yourself, have somehow eluded so many young college students that U.C. Berkeley offers an eight-week class in "adulting," KTVU reported. ... U.C. Berkeley officially removed John Boalt's name from its law school building, the East Bay Times reported. Boalt, an Oakland attorney in the late 19th Century, was a strong supporter of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. ... The Contra Costa County library system was hit with an ransomware attack earlier this month that shut down access to Wi-Fi, online library catalogs, and email. The East Bay Times reported library services could at full-speed by the end of this week. ...

Prisoners at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin were hoping to celebrate a breakout performance from the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV. But sheriff's deputies confiscated large volumes of jailhouse liquor known as pruno, the LA Times reported. ... But there wasn't much to celebrate. The 49ers succumbed to the Chiefs' knack for big-time playoff comebacks, and lost Super Bowl LIV in Miami, 31-20. President Trump later congratulated the champions from the state of Kansas. The Chiefs play in Missouri.

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