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Davis Signs Bills for Housing Affordability

Legislation: The package is contingent on voter approval of a $2.1-billion bond issue in November. Another bill should result in more condos and townhouses.


SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gray Davis signed a package of bills Friday aimed at addressing California's acute shortage of affordable housing, depending on voter approval in November of a $2.1-billion bond issue.

Money from sale of the bonds would be spent on everything from helping low-income Californians make down payments on homes to rewarding local governments for building new housing to providing $200 million for migrant farm worker shelters.

Davis also signed a compromise bill (SB 800) that is expected to stimulate construction of condominiums and townhouses by dramatically reducing costly litigation that builders contend has discouraged such construction.

Under the new law, builders will be guaranteed the opportunity to repair a defect before a lawsuit is filed against them. Also, homeowners will be able to sue when a prospective defect threatens the entire house.

"In other words, they don't have to wait [to sue] until a roof actually caves in," said Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). He helped negotiate the compromise bill among builders, insurance companies and trial attorneys during the last two years.

Taken together, Davis said, the package will result in "new, affordable housing being built all across the state. More families will have the American dream of home ownership within their grasp."

Supporters of the bills agreed that their program would help remove barriers to construction of new housing, but they said the details of producing the new housing will be a high priority issue for next year's legislative session.

Sunne McPeak, co-chairwoman of the Job-Center Housing Coalition, which supported the bills, blamed the long-running housing crisis on what she called regulatory and legal hurdles. Under the reform program, she said, "We can turn the corner to supply the affordable housing to meet the needs of our growing population and work force."

Except for the construction defects bill, most other parts of the package will depend on passage Nov. 5 of the record $2.1-billion housing bond issue, introduced by Senate leader John L. Burton (D-San Francisco).

The largest chunk, $910 million, would be targeted for deferred-payment loans to build permanent and transitional rental units for lower-income families.

Included also would be $15 million for student housing at campuses of the University of California and the California State University system.

An additional $290 million would be earmarked for a program in which first-time home buyers would get a so-called "silent" second mortgage loan to reduce the principal and interest payments on the original mortgage.

The bills the governor signed were introduced by Sens. Joe Dunn (D-Garden Grove) and Tom Torlakson (D-Antioch) and Assembly members Dion Aroner (D-Berkeley), Manny Diaz (D-San Jose), Marco Firebaugh (D-Los Angeles) and Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach).

In other actions, Davis also signed:

* Conservation--A bill (AB 2534) that allocates $300 million for state and local clean air, land and water programs, including beach cleanup. The funds came from Proposition 40, the $2.6-billion bond issue approved by the voters in March.

* Advise--A bill (AB 116) by Assemblyman George Nakano (D-Torrance) that creates an Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs Commission to advise Davis and lawmakers on improving the delivery of services to low-income and newly arrived immigrants.

* Heart--A bill (AB 2041) by Assemblyman Juan Vargas (D-San Diego) to expand immunity from liability to individuals who buy and use automatic external defibrillators, an emergency device to resuscitate heart attack victims. Exemption from immunity is intended to encourage building owners to make this equipment available for use by good Samaritans.

* 311 calls--A bill (AB 669) by Assemblyman Bob Hertzberg (D-Sherman Oaks) that authorizes local governments to install nonemergency 311 systems as an alternative to overloaded 911 emergency lines.

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