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California governor candidates promise millions of homes at debate

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Candidates take aim at CEQA, gas taxes, and construction hurdles at final debate before June primary

Democratic National Convention: Day Three
Gavin Newsom in 2016.
Photo by Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images

Six candidates for California governor—Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, State Treasurer John Chiang, former Assemblymember Delaine Eastin, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Orange County Assemblymember Travis Allen, and attorney John Cox—assembled in San Jose on Tuesday for the last significant debate before the June 5 primary.

The first third of the Q&A session handled questions specific to Northern California and the Bay Area, all of them familiar tunes to San Franciscans: housing, traffic, homelessness, and finicky technology.

In rapid-fire responses the candidates promised everything from building millions of new homes to torching the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Here’s some of what each would-be heir to Governor Jerry Brown’s throne promised if elected; comments have been edited for brevity.

On Housing

  • Cox: “I’ll get rid of CEQA. It’s got to be revamped, it’s not being used by lawyers to restrict housing. [...] Every builder I talk to tells me politicians have driven up costs with impact fees, regulation, litigation, you’ve got eight years to get a project approved.”
  • Chiang: “I would bring back redevelopment agencies, and I would take money on a yearly basis from state funds for tax credits.”
  • Newsom: “We’re setting 3.5 million housing units [by 2025] as a goal because that’s what it will take to address affordability. [...] I intend to lead the charge to connect with local governments to get them to do their job, to incentivize better behavior, and to be punitive where we must.”
  • Eastin: “You don’t have to get rid of environmental quality, [...] we’re not giving up on having a clean environment, not on my watch. We do need to streamline construction and we need to build housing near transit hubs. [...] A realistic number is something like 300,000 homes a year, that’s the most we’ve ever built.”
  • Villaraigosa: “The goal is 3.5 million units [by 2025]. We didn’t invent it, it’s what the state needs. [...] We do need CEQA reform, and a housing trust fund.”
  • Allen: “Californians don’t want to live in Chicago-style Section Eight slums. Some do want dense urban environments, but most want the California Dream, a single family home with a backyard and a front yard. We must build a minimum of one million new houses in four years, we must cut taxes, cut regulation, and stop excessive lawsuits under CEQA.”

On Homelessness

LA Pride ResistMarch
Villaraigosa in 2017.
Photo by Chelsea Guglielmino/Getty Images
  • Eastin: “The next governor should call for an emergency declaration where we will focus on this like a laser. We have to use tiny houses and vouchers for hotels and motels. [...] We’ve got to build a lot more housing generally, and we have to get rid of Costa-Hawkins.”
  • Cox: “There’s three things: The cost of housing, the criminals that have been let out of jails because it costs too much, and the substance abuse, we’ve got to treat people, and we can do that with community groups and NGOs.”
  • Allen: “We have laws against vagrancy, we must enforce those laws, we must have institutions where people can go to get help but no longer be allowed to sleep on the streets.”
  • Villaraigosa: “I’ll put a housing trust fund together, give the cities the money we took from them in the middle of a recession so that they can build housing and permanent supportive services around that housing.”
  • Newsom: “Shelters solve sleep; housing and supporting services solve homelessness. [...] I would lead the effort with a cabinet-level position to break through the morass and lead the effort across the state.”
  • Chiang: “Let’s make sure we don’t do what Gavin and Antonio did [as mayors] by criminalizing homelessness. We need rapid rehousing, supportive housing, transitional housing, [...and] I want to bring back redevelopment agencies.”

On Traffic

California Governor Candidate John Chiang Campaigns in San Francisco
Chiang in 2017.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
  • Allen: “It starts with the repeal of Jerry Brown’s gas tax. This was never necessary. [...] We do not need that extra $52 billion for roads, we need [...] to use our existing money and run California like a business and expand our freeways to fix our roads.”
  • Newsom: “We need to protect and preserve the gas tax. There’s dozens of projects underway that would come to a screeching halt [with repeal]. Subtraction is not addition, we need to continue to invest.”
  • Cox: “We just filed 965,000 signature to repeal this tax, not because I don’t want roads but because California spends four times what Texas does to rebuild a mile of road. It’s not about money, it’s about using it efficiently.”
  • Villaraigosa: “Our roads, our bridges need repair, the fact is there’s a proposal on the ballot to put a lockbox on this money so that it will only go to infrastructure, that’s why I support it.”
  • Eastin: “Every 25 years you should think about raising the gas tax. [...] Right now California families are paying a lot to repair cars because of poor road quality and the time they’re spending in traffic. [...] Every 25 years we should raise the gas tax.”

To see the full debate, including questions about the state at large and immigration, go here.