‘It is the crisis of our time’ - San Mateo Daily Journal

In an address framed as myopic in its laser focus on a single issue, local lawmakers largely lauded Gov. Gavin Newsom’s resolute commitment to solving the state’s homelessness crisis.

Assemblymen Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, and Marc Berman, D-Palo Alto, as well as state Sen. Jerry Hill-D San Mateo, roundly applauded the sentiments shared in Newsom’s State of the State speech, Wednesday, Feb. 19.

Noting the uniqueness in largely designating the entirety of the annual event to a specific topic, the Peninsula’s representatives suggested the urgency around resolving homelessness was deserving of the outsize attention it received.

“It was appropriate, fitting and necessary for him to address it and take it on as aggressively as he did,” said Hill. “It is the crisis of our time.”

Berman shared a similar perspective, also calling homelessness the biggest issue facing the state.

“Symbolically speaking, I think it was important to dedicate as much of his speech as he did to homelessness and lack of housing,” Berman said.

Outside of a preamble showcasing the state’s lasting economic potency, Newsom dedicated an overwhelming majority of his time detailing a rapid and targeted homelessness response proposal.

For his part, Mullin said he was struck by Newsom seemingly staking claim in a problem considered intractable — if not impossible — to fix.

This is not the first time Newsom has declared war on homelessness, and his successes and failures taking on the issue as mayor of San Francisco could provide valuable lessons in this renewed effort, said Mullin.

Noting the problem has grown so severe that it will likely define his term as the state’s top elected official, Mullin lauded the bold nature of Newsom’s proclamations.

“As daunting as this challenge is, it is encouraging that he is not hiding from it,” said Mullin. “He is running toward it and calling the Legislature to action.”

Not everyone was as enthusiastic about Newsom’s single-minded approach to the speech though.

State Sen. Brian Jones, R-Santee, framed the address as a missed opportunity to touch on other issues considered important by countless other Californians.

Pointing to the stalled high-speed rail project, looming threat of drought and contract worker legislation reputed as problematic and rife with unintended consequences, the Southern California lawmaker questioned why such topics were seemingly ignored.

Alternatively, Berman joked Newsom could not take on the full breadth of issues facing each Californian if he hoped to keep the speech under two hours.

Newsom, meanwhile, called for bipartisan support on programs designed to house the homeless, provide services to those needing care, offer sustainable financing and also facilitate development of affordable housing.

While seeking unity from both sides of the aisle at the Capitol, Newsom directed his attention to local communities in attempting to build consensus around the need for more home construction.

With an eye on increasing housing supply to meet demand, depress rising prices and stem displacement, Newsom advocated for legislation accommodating dense development near transit hubs and downtowns.

Recognizing the common themes between Newsom’s policy framework and Senate Bill 50 — the state’s most divisive housing production bill — Hill maintained his position that any proposed legislation must account for those fearing a loss of local control and diminished quality of life through enhanced development.

“We all want to see more housing but we have to show respect for those who are living in communities today,” said Hill, who voted earlier this year against the proposal from state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, before its ultimate defeat.

Should all sides get behind the legislative effort to build housing and solve homelessness, Hill expressed confidence that great progress could be made.

Berman agreed Newsom made it clear that support across the state will be necessary to make a dent in such a widespread issue.

“He is sending a message to the Legislature and California’s elected officials of all levels that this is the issue of our time and we can no longer kick the can down the road on making progress,” he said. “Because we thought we made progress over the last few years and the problem has only gotten worse.”

Mullin shared a similar sentiment, that with all-hands-on-deck approach, change is possible.

“Can we make it a major initiative and get at the heart of these challenges? With the governor’s leadership and the Legislature’s commitment to do so, we can go about solving this challenge,” he said.