Housing fights ahead

Last week, the city of Sacramento launched an ambitious effort to overhaul the city’s affordable-housing policies.

The most controversial is likely to be the city’s policy of “inclusionary zoning.”

In 2002, the city implemented a new law requiring developers to include housing for low-income residents in all new development projects. But the policy only applied to “new growth areas,” places like North Natomas and South Sacramento.

Housing advocates and some on the city council think it’s now time to push the policy citywide—especially given the boom in luxury housing and lofts that are planned to hit downtown in the next few years.

Low-income-housing rules won’t sit well with many developers. “It’s a flawed policy,” said Ardie Zahedani, with the North State Building Industry Association (BIA). The BIA argues that such policies only increase home prices for new homeowners. Advocates counter that builders are already charging as much as they can for new homes.

The county of Sacramento passed a similar ordinance last year but went the extra step of requiring some units to be affordable to people in the “extremely low income” category—those making less than $17,300 a year. The measure was the first of its kind in California and quickly wound up in court thanks to a lawsuit by the BIA. A superior-court judge dismissed that lawsuit last week.

The inclusionary housing ordinance and other policies will be considered at several public meetings in the coming year.

This month, the council will consider whether to pursue an ordinance that would protect some of the central city’s residential hotels, or single-room-occupancy hotels (SROs), that provide last-ditch housing for the city’s poorest residents. As redevelopment of the central city heats up, housing advocates fear the much-maligned hotels will be turned into more lucrative boutique hotels or condominiums, and the affordable units will be lost.

“Without some protection and replacement of those units, these folks will be homeless,” said Ethan Evans with the Sacramento Housing Alliance.

—Cosmo Garvin

Fighting Dems: Sacramento Brigade

Perhaps you’ve heard already that this year Democrats are drafting a “Band of Brothers” to try to retake Congress. Local congressional races are no exception. The most recent recruit is Rancho Cordova doctor and Vietnam vet Bill Durston, who so far is the only Democrat to challenge incumbent Republican Dan Lungren in the 3rd Congressional District. The district is heavily Republican, including Durston’s home town of Rancho Cordova along with parts of Solano, Calaveras and Alpine counties.

Durston, who filed papers to run last week, said he thinks he can win despite the GOP’s edge in party registration.

“I think a lot of Republicans feel betrayed by the Bush administration and the war. And by Lungren, who is in lockstep with the Bush administration,” said Durston.

Durston served in the Marines at the height of the Vietnam War, leading reconnaissance patrols and earning a naval commendation for bravery.


“I don’t think of myself as a war hero. But the fact is that I was there, and Lungren was not. He was studying English while I was fighting in Vietnam. He has no idea in the world what war is like.” Durston joins Democrat Charlie Brown, a veteran of the Vietnam and Gulf wars, who is trying to unseat Republican John Doolittle in the 4th Congressional District. Doolittle also avoided military service.

Durston is an emergency-room doctor and just resigned his post as president of the Sacramento chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, a doctors group that formed to combat the threat of nuclear war and continues working today advocating for environmental protection and universal health care. He has no political experience but got into the race after he realized that there were no progressive Democrats, or any Democrats at all, ready to challenge Lungren.

“For somebody like him to run unopposed is just unacceptable. It’s not good for democracy,” Durston said.

—Cosmo Garvin