Here’s where the leading gubernatorial recall candidates stand on housing

Top 4 contenders vying to unseat Gavin Newsom want to cut environmental reviews to speed development, have plans to address homeless crisis

From left to right: Gov. Gavin Newsom, Kevin Faulconer, Kevin Paffrath, Larry Elder and John Cox (Getty)
From left to right: Gov. Gavin Newsom, Kevin Faulconer, Kevin Paffrath, Larry Elder and John Cox (Getty)

It’s no surprise that as California battles deepening housing and homelessness crises, those two issues have figured prominently in the campaign to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom. The special election takes place Tuesday.

The four leading candidates vying to unseat the first-term governor: Republicans Larry Elder, John Cox and Kevin Faulconer; and Democrat Kevin Paffrath each have plans to address homelessness and overhaul environmental reviews to speed housing projects. Each has also promised to build more homes, as did Newsom when the Democrat ran for governor in 2018.

There are 46 total candidates on Tuesday’s ballot.

Here’s where the four leading contenders stand on the housing crisis and other real estate-related policies facing California. (None responded to requests for comment.)

Larry Elder

The conservative radio host, who has collected more than $513,000 in campaign donations just from the real estate industry — including from developers and brokers — has been vocal on housing issues. Elders, who FiveThirtyEight calls the leading contender, blames the lack of housing on the California Environmental Quality Act. Signed in 1970 by Republican Gov. Ronald Reagan, CEQA requires state and local agencies to analyze the environmental impacts of proposed residential and commercial developments before they are approved.

“The first thing I would do [if elected] is declare a statewide emergency on homelessness and suspend CEQA,” Elder said in an interview last month. “It allows virtually anyone to stop any project for almost any reason.”

Developers have criticized CEQA for providing a platform to challenge a project that has been approved.

Elder also contends CEQA has contributed to the state’s homeless crisis, alleging it discourages developers from building low-cost housing by tying them up in costly litigation. But according to one study, just 1 percent of projects — housing and non-housing — actually faced CEQA lawsuits.

Newsom and the state legislature have already made attempts to reform the the law — signing measures to streamline the CEQA review process for affordable housing projects, and making certain transit and road projects exempt from review.

As governor, Elder said he would also build homes on land owned by the federal government. That’s not so different from what Newsom has already attempted. The governor last year urged the Trump administration to give California access to federal property for the construction of low-cost housing.

John Cox

A real estate investor who has taken many swings at holding office, Cox has also proposed to fix the housing crisis by slashing regulations.

“We need to reform zoning, speed the permitting process and stop endless lawsuits,” Cox told the Los Angeles Times this week. “We can and must dramatically lower the cost of housing in California.”

Cox — who has named himself “the beast” and has campaigned with an actual bear — has also proposed overhauling CEQA to bring more housing units to the market faster.

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On the homeless issue, Cox would require all unhoused people receive mental health or addiction treatment before offering or providing them with housing. He also supports stricter enforcement of anti-camping legislation: “They don’t have to live on the street, they can go and live in the mountains,” he said last month. In July, the Los Angeles City Council approved a controversial citywide ban on homeless encampments near parks, libraries and other public spaces.

Kevin Faulconer

The former mayor of San Diego wants to make it “easier, cheaper and faster” to build housing across the state.

During his time in office, from 2014 to 2020, Faulconer was known for being pro-development, approving rezoning regulations that increased building heights and units around transit areas.

Faulconer has also voiced his opposition to legislation that would undermine single-family zoning, specifically SB-9 — a state Senate bill that would allow two homes to be built on a single-family zoned lot.

Though he has stayed away from commenting on CEQA during the recall campaign, he previously asked Newsom and the state legislature to “reform regulations like CEQA that delay home building.”

On the homelessness issue, he would create more shelters across the state and impose stricter enforcement of anti-camping laws. Under the proposal, Faulconer would create a state-run network of temporary shelters, using a mix of federal, state and local funding. He would also push to implement “right to shelter” legislation and would create a program for homeless military veterans that would give incentives to landlords who rent to them.

Kevin Paffrath

The real estate broker with a significant following on YouTube is one of the few Democrats in the race.

Paffrath has also focused his campaign on the homeless crisis, proposing to tap the National Guard to move all unhoused people into emergency facilities within 60 days.

Under the proposal, Paffrath would convert existing and vacant commercial buildings into homeless facilities, according to his website.

Newsom created a similar program at the onset of the pandemic in Project Roomkey. It contracted with hotels to move homeless people off the streets and into empty rooms. The state eventually transitioned to Project Homekey — a more permanent option where the state would buy motels then convert them into shelters.

Paffrath has also criticized how the state has handled rent relief programs, saying it has taken too long to distribute funds. Once that problem gets fixed, he told the Los Angeles Times, “we can move on to solving the root causes of homelessness and housing insecurity.”

Paffrath has also promised his administration would build more homes — specifically, he has proposed building “new energy-negative communities near massive solar and wind farms just outside of our cities.”