.Gail Pellerin Addresses New State Housing Laws

28th Assembly District rep Gail Pellerin talks about local control, housing issues and a potential Trump win

Some communities have been diligent in building more housing in the face of a statewide housing shortage. Others haven’t.

The state has stepped in by seizing control from local jurisdictions and forcing through housing projects that locals might not have approved.

State Assemblymember Gail Pellerin, whose district includes Santa Cruz and parts of Santa Clara County, shared her thoughts on the problem. The interview has been edited for clarity and more context has been added when needed.

GOOD TIMES: We obviously need more housing. The state has mandated 441,000 new housing units in the Bay Area and 4,634 units in Santa Cruz County by 2031 under the 1969 Housing Element Law. Santa Cruz is by some accounts the most unaffordable city in the country. Can we get more housing without “changing the character” of the cities?,  Take, for example, like the giant Clocktower project planned for downtown Santa Cruz.?

GAIL PELLERIN: I feel the heartstrings in both ways. Yeah, I mean, we have a huge deficit in affordable housing. And we’re not just talking very-low-income housing. We’re talking housing for our doctors and nurses and first responders and people that are working in our community.

So, yes, we need to build more housing, and I voted for this bill [AB 1287, a 50% density bonus that allows for 100% increased density when 24% of the total units are for “low income”] to provide for those density bonuses.

And I think what needs to happen now is this relationship that’s happening between the landowner or the developer or the residents of the city to make their voices heard and come up with a plan for housing and dislocation that does reflect the character of our community.

Looking at [the Clocktower] site, specifically, it’s primarily a commercial area. It’s at the tail end of downtown. It’s zoned for this exact purpose. And it’s near transit, and it’s not right next door to a single family residence neighborhood. So as far as a place to build, this is, that’s where we want building to occur.

Now, whether a 16-story building is the right answer, or the eight-story alternative, that’s for the community and the developer to work out. You know, I’m leaning toward the eight-story, just a little bit more reflective of what is being built in the community.

Isn’t that what’s kind of interesting about the “stick approach” of the state? Basically, we’re not incentivized or we’re not rewarded for meeting our goals. We meet our goals, and then they can do a 16-story building, which the developer [Workbench] would do anyway if Santa Cruz lost its pro-housing designation and if the builder’s remedy came into effect.

Yeah, we definitely need to be looking at that. Yeah, I don’t, I honestly do not believe it can be a 16-story building. I don’t know why that was floated out there like that. I guess it’s just like ‘we could do this!’

I believe the developer lives in the community as well. And wants to continue to have a good relationship with this community. And if the community’s voice is “16 -stories is too high,” I’m hoping they will be responsive to that, and height isn’t the only thing that projects get evaluated on. There’s a lot of other reasons that the city has to look at when looking at a project, so this is very preliminary. I would just hope they continue to have good, civil conversations. And like I said, I’ll be meeting with them and sharing some of my views as well.

Cities that don’t have a certified Housing Element are open to builder’s remedy, a law that allows developers to build whatever they want, wherever they want it, but builder’s remedy was always theoretical and never enforced until 2021, when California Attorney General Rob Bonta set up a “Housing Strike Force.” Now there are a ton of builder’s remedy projects statewide, but none have broken ground. Why were the limits on builder’s remedy—a cap on height and a ban on projects in industrial zones—a thing you supported for a city like Los Gatos, where there are a ton of builder’s remedy projects?

The Housing Accountability Act, passed by the Legislature in 1982, restricts a city’s ability to disapprove, or require density reductions, in certain types of residential projects. The builder’s remedy was added to the HAA in 1990 and it generally prohibits a local government that has failed to adopt a compliant housing element from denying a housing development that includes 20% lower-income housing or 100% moderate-income housing, even if the development does not conform to the local government’s underlying zoning. AB 1893—which I supported in 2023-24, and is currently waiting for a hearing in the Senate Housing Committee—would modify the builder’s remedy to provide more local control to municipalities and provide more certainty to all parties in the development process by clarifying and modernizing the law.

This bill would help ensure that local objective standards do not prevent the construction of affordable housing by clarifying affordability requirements, including options to provide housing for extremely low-, very low-, and low-income households. Importantly, it helps ensure local city control by ensuring that builder’s remedy projects are deemed consistent with local laws and policies.

There have been recent attempts to weaken the authority of the California Coastal Commission in order to encourage more housing in our most expensive and desirable cities by the coast. Supporters of the Coastal Commission point to California’s immaculate coastline and large protected areas as opposed to Florida, our overbuilt cousin, which has an affordability crisis too. Recent bills up for a vote would allow housing density bonuses to be applied in the Coastal Zone.

I spoke against that.

Because you support the Coastal Commission?

The Coastal Zone is 1% of the land in the state of California and it is the most sensitive and prone to disaster areas that we have in areas that need to be preserved and maintain public access.

I don’t want a Miami coastline in California. I don’t think that is the answer. I do believe there are places where we can build housing, but it is not on West Cliff. And, you know, certainly the Clocktower project, that piece of land there, that seems like the right place to build housing and are we talking, what, how many stories? That’s going to be up to the community and the developer and the city and setting up those ideas.

Would you agree that the state has taken over local decisions from the local government, which that they used to be in charge of in terms of housing?

I think there was a housing crisis that was not being addressed well at the local level, so the state stepped in and provided some tools. Did they overstep? You know, we could have a whole weekend symposium on this. 

That’s what I’m trying to do here!

Am I the expert who is trying to analyze that? No, I would not want to be the expert who is analyzing that in a vacuum. That is a larger conversation, which, you know, I think we should have at some point.

I think there needs to be a lot more work done on this builder’s remedy and stuff like this, because it seems to be not quite there yet.

Yeah, we’re seeing a lot of buildings in Santa Cruz—, like I get how that it makes people feel. But not all communities are doing it. And not all communities are building what they need to build. So, yeah, we don’t want to have a city being punished for doing the right thing, so that’s got to be taken into account as well. I’ve been in the legislature now almost a year and a half, and I’m nowhere near being an expert on housing, but I’m learning a lot and listening to people, my community. I think there’s a lot of room for improvement, but we’ve got to keep our goal in mind to build that affordable housing that is so critically needed to keep people thriving in our communities.

Do you commute from Santa Cruz [to Sacramento]?

I come up and then I stay here [Sacramento] for the week, then I go back. I usually come up on Sunday. You know, so I have Monday morning. I could just get up and get going with my day. But the days that I have to get up at six in the morning, to drive here, to be here on time, those are hard days, and I think about people having to drive that kind of distance, every day.

That’s also why we need high density like AB 1287 [100% density bonus]. 

We need housing in the right places where the people are needing the housing, working in those communities. So it’s a magic puzzle, that there’s a lot of stakeholders involved, and we want to make sure we get it right.

On a potential Trump win: How much will our state government respond to a Trump administration trying to roll back environmental protections and immigration law?

It’s that and everything. He is the most damaging person ever. Just a convicted felon. And the fact that we would even consider electing him to the highest office in our nation is very disturbing to me.

So, yes, there is a lot at stake in November: the future of our nation, the future of democracy, the future of LGBTQ rights, the future of women’s rights, the future of children’s education and welfare and well-being, the future of immigrant rights, the future of higher education and the future of our environment.


  1. If you’re for open borders, you’re in effect inviting everyone on Earth to move here.

    You ignore massively UNSUSTAINABLE immigration while you prattle on about your concern for “the future of our environment.”

    Grow up.

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    • Pat, people immigrating to the US are generally coming from less green countries. That means immigration is good for the environment. So is denser housing, since it shortens commutes and enables car-free commutes.

      Immigration is also great for the economy, and more immigrants helps to keep prices lower for all of us. More immigration is a would be so beneficial for all Americans.

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      • People will say the most ridiculous things to justify endless immigration-fueled population growth.

        You mean the US is suddenly NOT the overconsuming, carbon-emitting ecologically irresponsible villain we’re always being it is?

        Please, try to keep your story straight.

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  2. Nice. A pointed questioning that is appropriate on this issue. Thank you.

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  3. I wonder how much Gail’s responses were tampered down to meet the interviewer’s somewhat negative opinion on new housing development. To Gail’s credit, she nailed it on the head when saying “I think there was a housing crisis that was not being addressed well at the local level.” That remains more true than ever in the City of Scotts Valley.

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