Our Letters Against 9 Bad Bills & Our Letters For 2 Good Bills

Livable California submitted letters to Assembly or Senate policy committees in May, June and July. Some bills were amended later in committees, so bill specifics below may have changed. See more recent info on amended bills HERE, and on the crazy final hour of the August 31 legislative frenzy HERE.

Oppose SB 1120 (Bill died on Aug. 31)

Subject: OPPOSE SB 1120 (Atkins) as amended June 18, 2020

Livable California, a nonprofit that advocates for truly affordable housing, for the self-determination of local governments and for protecting the equity and livability of local communities, strongly opposes SB 1120 for these reasons:

SB 1120 is a reckless concept that breaks a contract with, and harms, 7.4 million homeowners of all income levels, ages, races and backgrounds.

This experimental bill eliminates single-family zoning statewide, letting buyers split any lot of 2,400 sq ft or more to build four market-rate homes without yards. In cities with their own “granny flat” laws, eight market-rate units could be built.

A major draw for speculators, SB 1120 will force home buyers to compete with giants like Irvine Company and Blackstone, severely eroding homeownership and family wealth across California at the worst possible time.

Pushed by Bay Area legislators who represent few Black or Latino homeowner areas, SB 1120 will devastate SoCal’s older, diverse, well-located suburbs such as Paramount, South Gate, and Altadena, and much of South L.A., at a time when protecting sensitive areas should be the overriding concern.

In the SB 1120 Gold Rush, thousands of older homes will be destroyed and replaced by market-rate houses more expensive than the ones lost, fueling a state-created contribution to California’s affordability crisis.

Scores of vibrant communities such as East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights, known for their decades of battles against gentrification and displacement, will be in the cross-hairs because they have transit stops — an investor “amenity.”

SB 1120 bans public hearings for these projects, silencing cities, communities and homeowners, whether wealthy and gated, or low-income and diverse.

Requiring no garage and just one parking space per house, SB 1120 will add severe mobility problems to crowded, urbanized Black, Latino and Asian communities.

SB 1120 bans cities from requiring parking at housing projects within ½ mile of transit — a failed concept that did not spur ridership but instead added to plummeting transit use in the years before the pandemic.

Misleadingly described by advocates as preserving 25% of a home’s outer walls, homeowner-occupied houses will be fully demolished. Vast swaths of trees, greenery and yards will be built over, significantly worsening state GHG emissions. Demolitions of sound housing will add to the SB 1120 GHG load.

This housing bill and others are being rushed through limited committee hearings during an international pandemic and social unrest, severely limiting debate as the public and media focus on keeping their jobs and surviving COVID-19. It is wrong to advance such profoundly controversial legislation at this time. The bills starkly reduce the legislature’s commitment to affordable housing — or offer none at all.

We urge you to vote no on SB 1120.

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Oppose SB 902 (Died in August)

Subject: OPPOSE SB 902 [Wiener] as amended May 21, 2020

Livable California, a nonprofit that advocates for truly affordable housing, for the self-determination of local governments and for protecting the equity and livability of local communities, strongly opposed SB 902.

We would like to note that the bill’s wording, on the issue of voter rights, is so convoluted that few constituents in California would notice that it seeks to empower municipalities to override local citizen-initiated ballot measures, undermining a 108-year-old citizen right. It is incumbent upon the 2020 legislature to be transparent during this pandemic. This bill is an example of the opposite.

We oppose this bill for the following reasons:

● It allows a majority on a city council or a board of supervisors to overturn any citizen initiative approved by voters that restricted land use for open space, shoreline protection or other reasons, undermining a 108-year-old citizen right to initiative enshrined in the state Constitution. The right of initiative reserves to voters the power to repeal an initiative — not to a city council.

● SB 902 fuels unhealthy power plays by developers who the bill incentivizes to attempt to elect a majority on city councils and boards of supervisors in order to swing the vote to roll back voter approvals that permanently protected lands.

● We at Livable California have discovered 40, and believe there may be hundreds, of citizen initiatives, approved by voters, that protect shorelines, hillsides, urban growth boundaries, open space and other lands. This bill is a direct attack on the environment and voter rights in California.

● The second half of this unusual bill allows any municipality to upend zoning in low-density areas to allow 10-unit market-rate apartments — on almost every developed residential or commercial street.

● The bill wrongly urges municipalities to use rare “urban infill” sites for market-rate housing, housing that HCD’s data shows is overbuilt in California’s key urban areas.

● Although not stated, this bill works in tandem with state ADU laws (granny flats), upsizing the “10 units” of market-rate housing it would allow on nearly any developed residential or commercial street to 15 such units — none of them affordable housing amidst the state’s affordability crisis.

SB 902 cannot be fixed. It will fuel unhealthy attempts by developers to take over city councils, and it will spur speculation and gentrification in areas that get targeted for 15-unit luxury apartments. It appears to be trying to fix things that are not problems, harming cherished voter rights, open space and the environment.

This housing bill and others are being rushed through limited committee hearings during an international pandemic and social unrest, severely limiting debate as the public and media focus on their jobs and surviving COVID-19. It is wrong to advance such controversial legislation at this time. Several housing bills reduce the legislature’s commitment to affordable housing — or, like SB 902, offer no affordable housing at all.

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Oppose SB 995 (Died in August)

Subject: OPPOSE SB 995 [Atkins] as amended July 18, 2020

Livable California, a nonprofit that advocates for truly affordable housing, for the self-determination of local governments and for protecting the equity and livability of local communities, strongly opposes SB 995 for these reasons:

SB 995 is not an authentic housing bill as promoted by some, but a favor to well-heeled commercial developers to “fast track” large commercial projects to get around CEQA, our environmental law.

While SB 995 will dub these developments as “Environmental Leadership Development Projects,” the projects aren’t required to be near transit — a foundational state policy in reducing greenhouse gas and fighting climate change.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has shown in its Preservation Green Lab research that even advanced LEED buildings consume so much energy, and their construction generates such severe GHG — including the supply chain, manufacturing, and release of embodied carbon — that it takes a LEED building decades to make up for the greenhouse gases it causes.

The bill tries to sell this “fast track” around CEQA by including an undisclosed amount of housing in these large commercial projects, just 15% of which must be affordable to people of moderate income.

Requiring just 15% affordable units is a 25% reduction in the legislature’s commitment to affordable housing as compared to other state laws that already promote “Environmental Leadership Development Projects.”

2020 is the worst possible year for the legislature to REDUCE its affordable housing commitment. It is at direct odds with the state’s overall affordable housing targets, set by the Department of Housing and Community Development, at 60% affordable units. By requiring just 15% of the apartment units to be affordable, SB 995 digs a deeper hole in our affordability crisis.

One last warning: This bill appears to have been written before the pandemic. It fails even to reference telecommuting, which is where California is heading in the post-COVID era as we all seek true “environmental leadership.”

This housing bill and others are being rushed through limited committee hearings during an international pandemic and social unrest, severely limiting debate as the public and media focus on surviving COVID-19 and staying above water. It is wrong to advance such profoundly controversial legislation at this time. The bills starkly reduce the legislature’s commitment to affordable housing — or offer none at all.

We respectfully urge you to reject SB 995.

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Oppose SB 1085 (Died in August)

Subject: OPPOSE SB 1085 [Skinner] as amended June 18, 2020

Livable California, a nonprofit that advocates for truly affordable housing, for the self-determination of local governments and for protecting the equity and livability of local communities, strongly opposes SB 1085 [Skinner].

SB 1085 further worsens the fundamental flaw in state Density Bonus law, the key program by which cities approve affordable housing: insufficient requirements placed on for-profit developers to include units for low-income households.

Embarcadero Institute found that California’s 14 most populous counties, “are far exceeding their market-rate [RHNA] housing targets, while far short on their affordable housing targets.” From HCD’s own data, the Institute found: “Since 2016, this mismatch has worsened, with a stark jump in market-rate housing permits seen alongside a corresponding dip in affordable housing unit permits. This shift correlates with the introduction of the state Density Bonus Law … meant to boost affordable housing approvals. It may be too early to say, but it seems the Density Bonus incentives … may have exacerbated California’s mismatched housing supply.” Click here for Embarcadero Institute study.

We oppose SB 1085 for these reasons:

● Allows developers far bigger buildings than current law, if the developer adds a modest number of affordable units. Under this bill California will fall further behind in supplying affordable housing while over-rewarding market-rate development.

● Worsens the Density Bonus law by giving developers the same financial incentives to build units for low-income households as they do for moderate-income households. Developers will choose to build moderate-income projects because they produce higher profits. The result: this bill will not produce low-income housing.

● Assures that only about 12% of new housing construction will be affordable, while large market-rate apartment complexes eat up available land and thus increase land values.

● Forces cities to offer up to four “incentives” that increase developer profits even further, including buildings with no parking, severe reductions in building setbacks such as side yards and back yards, and elimination of open space.

● Prevents municipalities from denying a Density Bonus project that harms the environment. A city could deny a project only if “the public’s health and safety are directly threatened.” Our standard should not devolve to rejecting projects only if humans are directly hurt by them.

● Prohibits cities from charging impact fees on Density Bonus units, adding to cities’ economic stress when their budgets have been decimated. Cities conduct studies to determine the impacts of housing and must be allowed to collect the impact fees.

This housing bill and others are being rushed through limited committee hearings during an international pandemic and social unrest, severely limiting debate as the public and media focus on keeping their jobs and surviving COVID-19. It is wrong to advance such profoundly controversial legislation at this time. The bills starkly reduce the legislature’s commitment to affordable housing — or offer none at all.

Thank you for considering our position on this issue.

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Oppose AB 725 (Signed into law by Gov. Newsom)

Subject: OPPOSE AB 725 [Wicks] as amended July 21, 2020

Livable California, a nonprofit organization that believes in the self-determination of local governments and protecting the livability of local communities while advocating for truly affordable housing opposes AB 725.

AB 725 is premised upon creating high-density, market-rate housing in urban areas. However, over the last decade Census data revealed a population shift away from those urban areas. The coronavirus pandemic and remote working have accelerated the trend dramatically.

AB 725 was written before these historic changes. The bill raises major concerns about displacement and gentrification in urban communities, as detailed below.

We urge you to oppose AB 725 for the following reasons:

1. AB 725 would force cities to shoehorn at least 25% of their Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) housing approvals into established single-family and other built neighborhoods.

2. AB 725 would open neighborhoods to speculators who would destroy existing housing to create dense development. It requires cities to “upzone” single-family areas to four units per lot, claiming this land is needed. Studies ranging across the political spectrum from urbanist Peter Calthorpe to urbanist Joel Kotkin agree that this argument, and the need to destroy existing communities, is false.

3. AB 725 is a de facto massive up-zoning of thousands of working-class and middle-class neighborhoods to make way for high-end market-rate apartment buildings with no affordable housing. In July 2020, Kome Ajise, Executive Director of the Southern California Association of Governments, publicly stated, “Without question, we [in Southern California] have met market rate goals, and in some cases overdone market rate. For affordable housing, you have to subsidize it. We’re just tinkering at the edges.”

4. Like SB 50 of 2020 and SB 827 of 2018, this bill would alter the powerful RHNA rules to destroy relatively affordable housing — and create unaffordable housing. AB 725 is more far-reaching and more disruptive than those bills, ignoring the distinctness, diversity, uniqueness, and self-determination of California’s 482 cities and 58 counties.

5. The bill’s definition of “units of housing” disqualifies Accessory Dwelling Units [ADUs] aka granny flats, from being counted as housing in the state’s RHNA targets. At a time when we must work together, this provision places the legislature as punishing cities who are doing the right thing by encouraging ADUs.

6. AB 725 ignores the need for infrastructure improvements to accommodate increased density and provides no local funding to correct infrastructure deficiencies.

Livable California urges the committee to oppose AB 725 as a bill which would take California housing in the wrong direction, based on assumptions upended by the pandemic and a growing body of studies regarding available space for housing. Additionally, we see that RHNA is not working well, while the Density Bonus Law is failing to produce anywhere near the amount of affordable housing required by RHNA. The legislature has taken a wrong path, as California falls behind in producing actual affordable housing. Well-meaning bills such as AB 725 take up time and energy and fail to produce what is needed.

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Oppose AB 1279 (Died in July)

Subject: OPPOSE AB 1279 [Bloom] as amended July 22, 2020

Livable California, a nonprofit that advocates for truly affordable housing, for the self-determination of local governments and for protecting the equity and livability of local communities, strongly opposes AB 1279, for the following reasons:

● AB 1279 seeks to help 400 cities reach affordable housing targets ordered by the state Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA). Embarcadero Institute has concluded that just 25 cities will meet those targets. AB 1279 doesn’t change that outcome.

● Some groups hope the bill will spur affordable housing and diversity in highly educated, racially homogenous, well-off areas like Sen. Richard Bloom’s coastal district. In fact, AB 1279 offers an “in-lieu fee” that developers will readily pay to get around the affordable housing rule for projects 10 units or smaller, encouraging speculation while failing to add affordable housing.

● This opt-out fee will result in even more high-end housing in homogenous, well-off areas, defeating the bill’s goal. For the cost of constructing roughly one affordable unit in the Bay Area or L.A., high-end developers can pay the fee, then erect 10-unit high-end buildings on residential arterial streets and in business districts.

● On lots larger than ½ acre, developers can build 120 units 55 feet high, plus earn a “density bonus” allowing them to build 162 units with greater height. Half of the units must be affordable for 55 years, but developers can build a 162-unit condo affordable only to “initial occupants.” When they move on, condo prices skyrocket to market-rate.

In July, Southern California Association of Governments CEO Kome Ajise criticized state RHNA targets, which require 60% of new housing to be affordable, an impossible goal only 25 cities will hit. Ajise said: “There is no way we can get to [60%] without subsidies. Without question, we’ve met market-rate, and in some cases overdone it. You have to subsidize, or we’re tinkering at the edges.”

● Communities won’t learn until 2022 whether an obscure committee has named them an “Opportunity Area” where 10-unit luxury apartments and large condos can be built on residential arterials and in business districts, without hearings or CEQA review.

● RHNA was intended to help cities determine their housing needs — a good idea. Today, the state uses it to insist that cities grow at impossible rates. Cities can’t hit their RHNA targets because cities don’t “build” housing. As Mr. Ajise said, we’ve been tinkering at the edges since the state killed affordable housing subsidies to cites in 2011. This bill fixes none of this, giving developers lucrative opt-outs that worsen the affordability crisis.

This housing bill and others are being rushed through limited committee hearings during an international pandemic and social unrest, severely limiting debate as the public and media focus on keeping their jobs and surviving COVID-19. It is wrong to advance such profoundly controversial legislation at this time. The bills starkly reduce the legislature’s commitment to affordable housing — or offer none at all.

Please oppose AB 1279.

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Oppose AB 2345 (Signed into law by Gov. Newsom)

Subject: OPPOSE AB 2345 [Gonzalez and Chiu] as amended July 21, 2020

Livable California, a nonprofit that advocates for truly affordable housing, for the self-determination of local governments and for protecting the equity and livability of local communities, strongly opposes AB 2345 because it harms the goal of increasing affordable housing in California.

The key mechanism to fund affordable housing in California until 2011 was through redevelopment authorities, and the Density Bonus Law was a supplement. After 2011, the Density Bonus Law — which lets developers substantially increase the size of projects if they include affordable units — became the state’s primary program.

Under “Regional Housing Needs Assessment” calculations, the state requires cities to reach a target of 60% affordable units and 40% market-rate units. But the state’s Density Bonus tool only yields 4% to 15% affordable housing, far below the 60% the state itself demands of cities. Thus the state is arming cities with a pop gun to go lion hunting. As below:

Developer A proposes a 100-unit housing project that offers 5% of its units to very-low income households (5 units). The developer earns a 20% “density bonus” that lets him add 20 more market-rate units, which increases the project to 120 units, including 5 affordable ones (4.1% of 120).

Developer B proposes a 100-unit housing project that offers 20% of its units to low-income households (20 units). The developer earns a 35% “density bonus” letting him add 35 market-rate units, increasing the project to 135 units, with 20 of them affordable (14.8% of 135).

AB 2345 seeks to remedy this vast affordable housing shortfall by increasing the maximum “density bonus” to allow buildings that are 50% bigger buildings instead of 35% bigger.. AB 2345 also gives developers more “concessions” to override local standards like building setbacks and height limits. Despite this, AB 2345 will accelerate California’s overproduction of market-rate housing and underproduction of affordable housing, as below:

If Developer B offers only 4 more affordable units, under AB 2345 he gets a 50% density bonus, which adds 15 more market-rate units to the building. This increases his project from 100 to 150 units, with 24 affordable units (16%). That’s only slightly higher than what Developer B produced in his 100-unit building, which contained 14.8% affordable units — without AB 2345.

Today, developers are granted two or three “concessions” if they increase their affordable units by 5% to 10%. AB 2345 would grant up to five concessions in exchange for just a 1% or 2% increase in affordable units. By adding very few additional affordable units, developers can almost eliminate local controls on height, open space, parking, design review, setbacks and so on.

These AB 2345 outcomes are great for market-rate developers, but a disaster for millions of Californians seeking affordable housing and finding land eaten up by market-rate housing.

This housing bill and others are being rushed through limited committee hearings during a pandemic and social unrest, severely limiting debate as the public and media focus on surviving COVID-19 and staying above water. It is wrong to advance such profoundly controversial legislation at this time. The bills starkly reduce the legislature’s commitment to affordable housing — or offer none at all.

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Oppose AB 3040 (Died in August)

Subject: OPPOSE AB 3040 [Chiu] as amended July 7, 2020

Livable California, a nonprofit that advocates for truly affordable housing, for the self-determination of local governments and for protecting the equity and livability of local communities, opposes AB 3040.

AB 3040 purports to help cities reach their “Regional Housing Needs Allocation” (RHNA) which requires cities approve high levels of new housing. This bill lets cities upzone single-family parcels to fourplexes. And by adding “granny flats,” in some cities up to eight units could be built where one home stands now.

The bill unintentionally widens the housing affordability gap by offering cities a Hobson’s choice that boosts market-rate and above-moderate income housing but doesn’t require any affordable housing. Ten years after the state slashed affordable housing funding for cities, AB 3040 makes it worse (Embarcadero Institute). The bill has four key problems:

1. By targeting homes 15 years or older, AB 3040 will gentrify and displace working-class neighborhoods, particularly in highly diverse Southern California. Urban Footprint (2020) found that 6.8M older homes are vulnerable to destruction under AB 3040. Displacement in equity areas would harm areas such as L.A.’s Eastside, a core of Latino homeownership. Eagle Rock, Highland Park, Montecito Heights, East L.A., Arlington Heights and Boyle Heights would become a speculator’s chess game.

2. AB 3040 appears to offer an alternative to the legislature’s badly failing Density Bonus law, under which some 600 cities will never reach the state’s exaggerated and unfortunately politicized RHNA targets. But cities can’t reach the targets by building AB 3040 fourplexes either. Cities will only destroy middle and working class neighborhoods.

3. Under AB 3040, if a city upzones 20 single-family homes to fourplexes containing 80 units, the state would give a city “credit” for just 8, not 80 units, toward the city’s RHNA target. An official bill analysis explains that cities find it so repugnant that the State now demands “ample evidence” cities aren’t lying about how much density they’ve approved, that cities will accept this terrible 1-to-10 deal — just to keep the State away.

4. A law that plays on cities’ distrust of the State’s divisive RHNA program is set to fail. Amidst a deep need for affordable housing, not market rate housing, this bill says that it “may” let cities count unaffordable housing as “low-income housing” — a troubling example of the state’s politicizing of dysfunctional RHNA law. (Paragraph c(4)(E))

This market-rate housing bill fails at each level. AB 3040 weakens local government, which is closest to the people served. Housing legislation should incentivize and fund local governments’ efforts to increase affordable housing.

This housing bill and others are being rushed through limited committee hearings during an international pandemic and social unrest, severely limiting debate as the public and media focus on surviving COVID-19 and staying above water. It is wrong to advance such profoundly controversial legislation at this time. The bills starkly reduce the legislature’s commitment to affordable housing — or offer none at all.

We respectfully urge you to reject AB 3040.

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Oppose AB 3107 (Died in July)

Subject: OPPOSE AB 3107 [Bloom and Ting], as amended 7/23/20

Livable California, a nonprofit that advocates for truly affordable housing, for the self-determination of local governments, and for protecting the equity and livability of local communities, previously opposed AB 3107 for reasons stated in our July 15, 2020 letter. We write to express our strong opposition to the bill as amended on July 21.

● It rewrites all local zoning codes in California to allow residential towers on commercial property, a radical move that ignores adverse consequences.

● The bill arbitrarily allows developers to build to the “highest allowed height for a commercial or residential use within one-half mile of the site.” In L.A. that means 9-story towers citywide. In Inglewood, 75-feet will apply. It wipes out Manhattan Beach’s residential 30-foot height limit to allow 99 feet.

● Speculators will drive out mom-and-pop businesses to tap this lucrative gift, but the bill requires developers to designate only 20% as lower income units.

● This bill will decrease sales tax revenues to local governments at a time when they are facing severe deficits due to the COVID-19 shutdown.

● The bill will displace small businesses that are essential to neighborhoods’ identity and livability.

● In SoCal working-class areas such as Gardena, Harbor City, Mid-City and Crenshaw, the “affordable” units, aimed at those earning 80% of median income, will be unaffordable to the poor, making this bill a terrible tradeoff.

● It wreaks havoc by incentivizing tall apartments where cafés, shops or businesses now stand, even if adjacent to homes.

● This bill eliminates local public hearings, silencing cities, communities and homeowners, whether wealthy and gated, or low-income and diverse.

If the legislature is interested in a bill that more appropriately addresses housing and commercial areas, SB 1299 (Portantino) uses a more thoughtful approach and is a far better vehicle for promoting housing in commercial areas.

This housing bill and others are being rushed through limited committee hearings during an international pandemic and social unrest, severely limiting debate as the public and media focus on keeping their jobs and surviving COVID-19. It is wrong to advance such profoundly transformative legislation at a time when no one knows how Californians will live in a post-pandemic world. The bills starkly reduce the legislature’s commitment to affordable housing — or offer none at all.

We oppose AB 3107 and urge you to do the same.

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Support SB 1299 (Died in August)

Subject: SUPPORT SB 1299 [Portantino]

We strongly support SB 1299, which provides incentives to build housing that does not destroy existing housing, by enabling cities and counties to voluntarily rezone and reuse idled shopping centers and big-box retail buildings for residential use. We support SB 1299 for these reasons:

Establishes a state-funded grant program for local governments. The grants reward cities for shifting to housing on such sites by supplying funds to municipalities for seven years to replace lost sales tax from the commercial use of the SB 1299 sites.

Under this bill, cities would allow housing by right in commercial areas, but would still oversee local design review.

This bill is based on reuse of buildings idled by e-commerce and now by COVID-19, which studies by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and others show generate SIGNIFICANTLY less greenhouse gas that DEMOLITION and replacement. Even if a new building follows strict LEED standards with smart cooling, heating and materials, REUSED buildings are GREENER for everyone.

California’s legislature has yet to acknowledge the severe GHG downside of demolition and construction of ground-up structures. This bill gets us on a path we can no longer ignore.

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Support AB 168 (Signed into law by Gov. Newsom)

Subject: SUPPORT AB 168 [Aguiar-Curry]

Livable California, a nonprofit that advocates for truly affordable housing, for the self-determination of local governments, and for protecting the equity and livability of local communities, supports AB 168.

This bill corrects an equity aspect of existing law that was left out of the original bill. Allowing the tribes appropriate scoping consultation and agreement before granting housing developers a “streamlined approval” process that fails to assure protection of California’s heritage, is a long-overdue and necessary fix.

AB 168 conforms to the Livable California’s advocacy for equity in all aspects of the work we do.

We support AB 168 and urge you to do the same.

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