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Governor Brown's overdrive housing plan stalls, falls

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Proposal likely would have escalated San Francisco development to heights unknown

False alarm, everybody. Although Governor Jerry Brown sought to completely remake San Francisco’s development and entitlement process with a sweeping housing law (alongside every other city in California), it now appears that the plan is scrapped.

The governor’s Achilles' heel in this process was simply that—for as good as Brown generally is at pushing his legislative agenda— the governor doesn’t get to write the laws himself. Sacramento lawmakers walked away from the bargaining table on the issue, according to the Associated Press.

Brown’s housing nuclear option would have granted most large housing projects in the city "by right" status, meaning that they could bypass almost all of the city’s negotiating process, provided the developments were properly zoned and contained a minimum of affordable housing (five to 20 percent of the total, depending on the building site).

While the city would have retained some leverage over developers, this would have been the equivalent of replacing the city’s construction pipeline with a firehose.

But now it' s all but impossible to meet the August deadline, which leaves Brown with nowhere to go and not a lot of time to go there. The best he can do is bring it up again next year and hope that political environment in 2017 is more amenable.

Brown tried to sweeten the pot by joining the housing law to several hundred million dollars worth of affordable housing funds. While it’s not immediately clear why the deal fell apart, there was no shortage of players interested in blowing it out of the water, including San Francisco’s own elected powers, both here and in Sacramento.

So by-right gets a by, for now.