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The Mamalilikulla’s long journey home

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Saturday, September 24, 2022

By Stephanie Wood Photography by Taylor Roades This story was made possible in part by an award from the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Storms have played a significant role in John Powell’s life. On Mamalilikulla territory, which spans small islands and inlets on the misty Pacific coast, the storms can be intense. The sky goes grey, the rain pelts sideways and the waves of the ocean surge in strong winds. Powell, the nation’s elected chief councillor, can remember being just five years old as his grandfather navigated a fishing boat in “the stormiest weather in November.” “I could stand on the counter and touch the water outside because we were leaning over so much — and [I remember] not being afraid, because of the faith I had in my grandfather,” he recalled. Get The Narwhal in your inbox! People always tell us they love our newsletter. Find out yourself with a weekly dose of our ad‑free, independent journalism Get The Narwhal in your inbox! People always tell us they love our newsletter. Find out yourself with a weekly dose of our ad‑free, independent journalism Storms also played a role when the colonial government outlawed potlatches from 1885 to 1951. Indian Agent William Halliday broke up a potlatch at ‘Mimkwa̱mlis in 1921, arresting people for participating — regalia was stolen, and people feared being arrested as Halliday continued to monitor the territory. “They took to potlatching in the worst storms so that people couldn’t go there to interrupt them,” Powell, whose ancestral name is Winidi, said. He spent his early years on ‘Mimkwa̱mlis, or Village Island, where Mamalilikulla people lived for millennia. Then, when Powell was five, the entire community was forced to abandon their homes due to a lack of clean water, lack of infrastructure and children being taken away to residential school in nearby Alert Bay. Halliday also did not allocate the nation a reserve, so the Mamalilikulla slowly spread out to different urban areas and other reserves, becoming a nation with no home base for its people. Abandoned houses still stand today at ‘Mimkwa̱mlis facing the water, beaten by the rain. Also known as Village Island, ‘Mimkwa̱mlis means “village with rocks and island out front.” The last person living at ‘Mimkwa̱mlis left in 1972. Today it is used as a home base for the Mamalilikulla guardians to monitor and protect their territory. Now, Powell is determined to protect the land the Mamalilikulla were separated from and help people reconnect with it. Last November he led the nation in unilaterally declaring an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area at Gwaxdlala/Nalaxdlala (Lull Bay/Hoeya Sound), near ‘Mimkwa̱mlis. The 10,416-hectare protected area is just north of Vancouver Island and includes extremely rare shallow coral as well as salmon-bearing streams that support grizzlies and black bears. The protected area is roughly the size of Vancouver proper, and about 2,000 hectares of it protects the ocean.  Map: Shawn Parkinson / The Narwhal Indigenous protected areas in principle have existed as long as Indigenous Peoples have. But their recent iteration of being known as Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas, more commonly called IPCAs, goes back to 2018. That’s when the federally funded Indigenous Circle of Experts published a report on how Indigenous-led conservation could be undertaken and how that could help Canada reach its United Nations commitments on climate change and conservation. Indigenous Peoples lead conservation and stewardship within Indigenous protected areas, in accordance with their own priorities and laws. Since then, the idea has taken off. But there are more proposals coming from First Nations than the slow wheels of government can keep up with. Mamalilikulla First Nation didn’t wait for buy-in from other levels of government. Instead, they established the protected area according to their own laws and their constitutionally recognized Indigenous Rights. The nation invited the province and federal governments to join them in co-governance. Chief John Powell of the Mamalilikulla First Nation said establishing their protected area is “just the beginning” of reclaiming stewardship of their territory. In May, a group of Mamalilikulla went to Gwaxdlala/Nalaxdlala (pronounced Gwat-ch-dala-lah / Nah-latch-dala-lah) to celebrate the IPCA declaration. For most people, it was their first time there.  They had hoped for sun, but the sky had other plans. They sang and danced in celebration as the rain fell, feet passing through the mud, mirroring their ancestors who potlatched in the harshest storms. “I’m happy. It fills my heart to see all of the support,” Powell told The Narwhal that day. “I know there’s a lot of work that still needs to happen. And I know that this is just the beginning. But I think it’s a good start.” Danielle Barnes (left) and Evie Barnes dance in their regalia around the fire, where many Mamalilikulla citizens were visiting this part of the territory for the first time. Bert Boucher (left) and Andy Puglas laugh at the rainy celebration, where people were all smiles despite the cold. Indigenous protected areas are ‘catching fire’ Mamalilikulla is part of a groundswell of Indigenous Nations declaring IPCAs based on their own sovereignty — not waiting for approval, but leaving the door open for colonial governments to get on board.  Powell said colonial governments will have to find a way to handle the wave of IPCA proposals coming their way as Indigenous Peoples look for ways to protect land faster than government bureaucracy often allows. “These IPCAs are not going away. They are the thing of the future,” he said. The Mamalilikulla protected area, declared last November, is over 10,00 hectares of land and ocean. The area is home to salmon, grizzlies and black bears. Starting with an investment of $25 million in Indigenous Guardians programs in 2017, the federal government has continued to make major investments in Indigenous-led conservation. It announced funding in 2019 through Canada’s Nature Fund to support the establishment of up to 27 Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas and in 2021 announced $340 million in funding over five years to support Indigenous-led conservation through guardians programs and IPCAs. In the federal government’s 2021 budget, more than $166 million was allocated for IPCAs. Now, so many IPCA proposals and declarations are being announced that it’s hard to keep track of them. In June of this year, Kitasoo Xai’xais declared a 33.5-square-kilometre marine protected area. In 2021, after waiting for more than four years for provincial support, Gitanyow Hereditary Chiefs unilaterally declared the Wilp Wii Litsxw Meziadin Indigenous Protected Area, encompassing 540 square kilometres of land and water.  Mamalilikulla’s protected area includes 2,000 hectares of ocean in Knight Inlet, where rare shallow coral live beneath the surface. Valérie Courtois, director of the Indigenous Leadership Initiative, said the idea of Indigenous protected areas “really is catching fire.” The initiative supports Indigenous-led conservation. There are half a billion square kilometres in proposed protected areas by Indigenous Peoples in Canada, according to Courtois. Courtois said that in the face of climate change impacts, including the wildfire that burnt down Lytton, B.C., during the 2021 heat dome, she thinks people are open to realizing “there’s a better way” of doing things. With Indigenous Peoples stewarding 80 per cent of the world’s remaining biodiversity, Indigenous-led conservation is one such solution. “Even in cases of nations declaring them unilaterally, they’re never doing that just for their own purposes,” she said. “We’re doing this for the good of everybody.” Valérie Courtois said Canada has a responsibility to provide core funding to IPCAs to meet its conservation targets. Photo: Nadya Kwandibens The momentum is palpable, she said. In August, the Indigenous Leadership Initiative announced the launch of a First Nations National Guardians Network, which will connect guardians across the country and create a more streamlined process to access funds. According to Courtois, it’s the first program of its kind in the world. But the demand to launch IPCAs and guardians programs still “far outweighs what is available for funding,” Courtois said. She sees many more applications come in than current federal funding can support. If Canada increased its investment to provide the core funding needed to get programs off the ground, First Nations could then build out and generate their own revenue and access other funding, she argued. Courtois said Canada has a responsibility to support Indigenous protected areas since it has made international climate and conservation commitments, including protecting 30 per cent of lands and waters by 2030 — a commitment that will be in the spotlight this December when Canada hosts a UN conference on biodiversity. Kevin Cranmer dried his drum by the fire and people warmed up with seafood chowder when more than 100 people gathered for the Mamalilikulla’s IPCA dedication ceremony, including representatives from the B.C. government. But the provincial and federal governments still haven’t formally recognized the protected area. If Canada did finance the ambitions of First Nations, the country would “far surpass any country globally, both in conservation achievements and the role of Indigenous Peoples within those conservation achievements,” she said. “We’re kicking ass when it comes to conservation.” The return on investment has been proven — a 2016 study looking at the Lutsel K’e Ni Hat’ni Dene and the Dehcho K’ehodi guardians programs in the Northwest Territories found that every dollar invested generated $2.50 in social, cultural, economic and environmental value. A 2017 study of the Coastal Guardians Watchmen programs found that every dollar invested generated $10 in returns. Discussions moving slowly with province and feds John Bones, advisor to the Mamalilikulla First Nation, said they wanted to minimize the possibility of the government controlling the agenda when they first began planning the protected area. “We were not going to take the usual approach of saying, ‘We want to do this and we need you to give us money so we can do it,’ ” he said.  Instead, they sought funding from Environment Funders Canada’s ocean collaborative to begin business planning, expand the Mamalilikulla Guardian Program that stewards the territory and build an IPCA framework first. John Bones said Mamalilikulla First Nation wanted to do things differently, retaining funding and creating an IPCA before seeking government support, rather than relying on government support in order to make it happen. Shortly before the nation declared the IPCA, in December 2021, the B.C. government began discussions about collaboration, but the nation had no luck getting the federal government to the table. Now, almost a year after the declaration and after lots of pushing, the federal government has begun tentative talks with the nation as well. The province and the nation signed a letter of intent to work together on collaborative management, but no formal agreement has been made with either level of government yet. The province still provided funding to the nation after they began their discussions, and the nation has applied for further funding from Fisheries and Oceans Canada to support their monitoring. From there, they plan to apply for more third-party funding and find ways to generate their own revenue. They are exploring ideas like ecotourism and a permit system for companies and individuals operating on their land. Sarah Fraser, an assistant deputy minister of B.C.’s ministry of forests, attended the celebratory event in May.  “I’d like to really applaud the nation for taking this very bold initiative,” she said at the time. She didn’t use the term Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area, but instead referenced the letter of intent signed by the nation and the province to work together. “I support the Gwaxdlala/Nalaxdlala collaborative management project and look forward to seeing that work in progress,” she said. In an emailed statement, Fisheries and Oceans Canada told The Narwhal the federal government “will continue to consult with the Mamalilikulla Nation and any impacted groups on potential protections within the Gwaxdlala/Nalaxdlala site.” The department pointed out it has policies in place to mitigate fishing impacts on sensitive areas of the ocean floor, and that it has been working with First Nations including Mamalilikulla to develop a Marine Protected Area Network that would include the corals in the Hoeya Sill. This network has been in development since 2020, and the First Nation would like to see interim protections while the network is developed. In the emailed statement, the department said it is working with partners to advance “Indigenous-led area-based conservation” in marine areas and considering how IPCAs “might play a role in supporting mutual conservation objectives.” DFO support would be pivotal in offsetting fisheries impacts, nation says In Mamalilikulla territory, challenges range from plummeting salmon returns to landslides taking place on destabilized slopes damaged from logging — all long-term impacts of extractive industries. That’s why Powell wants the Mamalilikulla to reclaim stewardship of the area. “It’s evident we can’t count on the government to protect our best interests,” he said. “Government protects industry.” Powell said the nation wouldn’t stop all industry in the territory, but would ensure it is done more sustainably in accordance with Aweenak’ola, their law “to protect, to house, to feed and to defend all those from the lands, seas, skies and the sacred stories that connect us to them all.” Norma Louie dancing at the Mamalilikulla IPCA dedication ceremony. There is no time to waste because rare coral gardens, found nowhere in the world except the coast between Alaska and California, continue to be damaged by fisheries, Powell said. Knight Inlet is home to rare shallow corals that are typically found in deeper waters, such as primnoa pacifica, a soft and fleshy coral that can reach more than three metres in height. Corals and sea sponges filter ocean water and provide homes for crabs, rockfish, sea spiders and other sea life.  These living corals and sea sponges can easily be destroyed by prawn traps and their feeding can be impacted by climate change and sedimentation from nearby activity like fish farms. Mamalilikulla territory is home to rare shallow corals and sea sponges, like this dried cloud sponge at the Discovery Passages Aquarium in Campbell River, B.C. Cloud sponges are sensitive to being destroyed by prawn traps, and they dissolve as they come to the surface, making it hard to know how many are damaged. The Mamalilikulla First Nation appealed to the commercial prawn fishing sectors to voluntarily avoid the coral gardens in the IPCA this year, and some agreed. Bones remains hopeful the fishing sectors will be willing to talk to them about future fishing seasons.  Since Fisheries and Oceans Canada controls fisheries, Bones said the department’s willingness to come to the table or not is significant. He said he heard from the prawn fishing sector “if there’s something that’s really worth protecting, they want to protect it too.” Prawn fishing boats were in Hoeya Sound the same day the Mamalilikulla held their dedication event. The nation hopes to reach agreements with prawn and crab fisheries to stop fishing in rare coral gardens. Powell said they will continue to build the IPCA whether the government hops on board or not. The nation has heard it will take many months or even years to get some permits and protections in place, according to Powell. “We have to sometimes stand by our guns and just say ‘no, that’s not good enough,’ ” he said. “Two years from now is not good enough. Who knows what state those corals are going to be in?” Primnoa coral is normally found at great depths, but in Knight Inlet they live in shallow waters, making them very rare. These dried corals are at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, B.C. The longer they wait to restore and protect the area, the greater chance it will pass a tipping point beyond repair, Powell said. The coral may disappear, the salmon may disappear, causing dependent species like grizzlies to suffer — a possibility he doesn’t want to imagine. It has always been about ‘home’ All of the ecological issues the Mamalilikulla are trying to fix in the new protected area are connected, Powell explained. Landslides caused by logging have smothered salmon-bearing streams. Since salmon numbers are low, grizzlies are starving. Since grizzlies aren’t catching salmon, the nutrients of salmon carcasses aren’t nourishing the forest and forest dwellers. This, in turn, impacts people’s health.  “The connection to the land, sea and sky into the supernatural ones was what kept our people healthy,” he said. That’s why it was so important for Powell to bring people to the territory in May. It was Mamalilikulla citizen Mae Flanders’ first time going to Gwaxdlala and Nalaxdlala, and she was one of the first people to dance there in a century. She felt “the love and the warmth” even in the cold. “It was beautiful,” she said. “It’s just so important for our people to get reconnected … We need our traditional learnings and teachings back.” (Left to Right) Pam Mountain, Carolyn Dawson, and Mae Flanders were some of the first people to dance on Mamalilikulla territory in 100 years at the IPCA dedication ceremony. “It was beautiful,” Flanders said. Another dancer, Carolyn Dawson, said it was her first time at Gwaxdlala/Nalaxdlala as well. She also joined a 2019 trip organized by the band office to ‘Mimkwa̱mlis and said both experiences were profound.  “Our people have been lost for a long time because we don’t have our home,” she said. “It’s nice that we’re actually able to put our feet down to where our ancestors once did.”  “I felt like I was connecting with all our ancestors.” Many people’s ancestors grew up on ‘Mimkwa̱mlis, which is close to the protected area, but they hadn’t been to the area themselves. One of Mamalilikulla First Nation’s goals is revitalizing people’s connection with their territory. Mamalilikulla Hereditary Chief Nah Kah Pun Kyim, or Amos Dawson, said it was his first time visiting the area. “I’m going to come back here,” he said with a big smile. He hopes to see cultural camps for youth take place in the protected area. Hereditary Chief Amos Dawson looks out the window onto part of Mamalilikulla territory he has never seen before, which is now protected by the nation’s IPCA. Chief Robert Joseph said at the heart of the IPCA declaration is the idea of Indigenous Peoples coming home. Chief Robert Joseph, ambassador for Reconciliation Canada, hosted the May event. Joseph’s ancestral name is Kwankwanxwaligedzi-wakas and he is a hereditary chief of the Gwawaenuk First Nation of the Kwakwaka’wakw, and he is a Kwak̓wala speaker. The Mamalilikulla are also Kwakwaka’wakw. Joseph said it was “profound” to witness the Mamalilikulla return to their land. He waited for a bowl of hot soup, wearing one of the bright rain ponchos Powell had provided. “It’s really inspirational, even with this heavy rain, the idea that we’re starting — at this point in our history — to come back home in a real way,” he said. “It’s all about — always has been about — home.” Andrew Puglas Jr. attended the event in May with his family, holding his son Gregory up to the window to let him watch the islands go by.  “I’m just happy to bring my son with me, show him this is where we’re from,” he said. Andrew Puglas Jr., who worked as a guardian for years, looks out towards ‘Mimkwa̱mlis with his son Gregory. Puglas wants to see more protection of Mamalilikulla territory. At the same time, the damage to the territory weighed heavily on him. He said he walked every creek in Knight Inlet as a guardian almost 10 years ago, and would see no fish. Like many other nations, he said the Mamalilikulla haven’t had access to salmon for years because of low returns, and he fears prawn and crab will go the same way. He wants to see the Mamalilikulla take the lead on protecting more land and water. “The environment is ruined, right from the bottom of the ocean to the top of the mountains,” he said. “We’ve got to protect our territory.” Sasha Perron (left) and Kevin Cranmer drum visitors into the Mamalilikulla’s IPCA dedication ceremony as people disembark from the boat. Elected Chief Councillor John Powell said the establishment of the IPCA is part of a longer path of healing for both the land and the Mamalilikulla. Powell said both the land and the people need time to heal from the trauma inflicted on them, but he sees it happening before his eyes. “It took a long time to get here, it’s going to take a long time to heal,” he said. “I look forward to the day where everybody is healthy. I’m planning to live to be about 150 so I hope I see it,” he said with a big smile. And when that time comes in another century or so, Powell said he’ll return to ‘Mimkwa̱mlis once more. “It’s where I intend to lay in my last days.”

By Stephanie Wood Photography by Taylor RoadesA coastal B.C. First Nation dispossessed from its land for decades by colonialism is part of a groundswell of Indigenous nations declaring protected areas based on their own sovereignty — and they’re not waiting around for colonial governments

Read the full story here.
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How California lawmakers greenlit ‘any flavor of affordable housing you could possibly want’

A patchwork of bills are giving housing developers and local governments more options to reduce red tape for housing projects.

In summary A patchwork of bills are giving housing developers and local governments more options to reduce red tape for housing projects. You may not have seen the headlines (there weren’t any). You may have missed the raucous debate (there wasn’t much of one). But with the end of the legislative session last week, California is now on the verge of laying down a welcome mat for most major affordable housing projects across the state. That’s not because of a single bill, but a patchwork of current and former legislation that, taken together, “basically covers any flavor of affordable housing you could possibly want to build,” said Linda Mandolini, president of Eden Housing, an affordable housing development nonprofit. Homes designated for low-income occupants, like all housing projects, face a gauntlet of potential challenges and hold-ups that add to the already exorbitant cost of affordable housing in California. Those hurdles include lawsuits filed under the wide-ranging California Environmental Quality Act, extensive public hearings and other forms of opposition from local government. Now, affordable housing projects — in most places and most of the time — may soon be exempt from all that, fitted out in a suit of procedural armor made up of some half a dozen bills and laws. A bill now sitting on the governor’s desk would cover up one of the last chinks in that armor. Assembly Bill 1449, authored by two Democratic Assemblymembers, David Alvarez of San Diego and Buffy Wicks of Oakland, would exempt certain affordable apartment developments from review under CEQA. To qualify, projects would have to be located in dense urban areas, set aside each unit for someone earning less than 80% the area median income and abide by stricter labor standards, among other requirements.  Though modest and technical-sounding, that’s unusually broad for new construction in California.  “I do think it’s gonna be very consequential but it’s kind of flown under the radar,” Alvarez said. His explanation why: “The politics of where Californians are and certainly where the Legislature is — we want to see results. We want to see housing being produced.” Learn more about legislators mentioned in this story D David Alvarez State Assembly, District 80 (Chula Vista) Expand for more about this legislator D David Alvarez State Assembly, District 80 (Chula Vista) Time in office 2022—present Background Small Business Owner Contact Email Legislator How he voted 2021-2022 Liberal Conservative District 80 Demographics Voter Registration Dem 47% GOP 20% No party 26% Campaign Contributions Asm. David Alvarez has taken at least $192,000 from the Finance, Insurance & Real Estate sector since he was elected to the legislature. That represents 9% of his total campaign contributions. Taken together with a handful of other bills and current laws, said Mark Stivers, a lobbyist with the California Housing Partnership, which co-sponsored AB 1449, the new legislation “effectively make it possible for affordable housing providers to develop nearly all viable sites in California by-right and exempt from CEQA review.” Speeding up approval for these projects comes with a trade-off. Environmental justice organizations, labor unions and various opponents of new development see CEQA as a vital tool to weigh in and on what gets built, where and and under what terms.  “Our communities rely heavily on CEQA to be able to get more information about proposed developments that might be contributing to further pollution,” said Grecia Orozco, a staff attorney with the nonprofit Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment.  Local activists also often flood the public meetings of city councils and planning boards to pressure elected officials to block unpopular projects or extract concessions from developers.  Whether AB 1449 and a handful of similar bills become law is now up to Gov. Gavin Newsom. Supporters have reason to be optimistic. The Newsom administration is pushing local governments to approve an unprecedented 2.5 million additional homes by 2030, he called the CEQA process “broken” and in the spring he rolled out a package of bills aimed at speeding up environmental challenges to projects — though housing was not included.  He has until Oct. 14 to sign or veto the bills now sitting on his desk. A patchwork of carve-outs  The Alvarez-Wicks bill isn’t the first legislative effort to grease the skids for new affordable housing.  Two others, both authored by San Francisco Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener, would force local governments to automatically approve apartment buildings in housing-strapped parts of the state and most affordable housing projects on the properties of houses of worship and nonprofit colleges, so long as they comply with a list zoning, affordability and labor requirements.  A third piece of legislation by San Jose Democratic Sen. Dave Cortese exempts the decision by local governments to fund affordable housing projects from environmental challenges, too. Newsom already signed it. “We want to see housing being produced.”Assemblymember David alvarez, democrat, chula vista Still awaiting the governor’s pen are a handful of bills that make it more difficult to stall housing projects though environmental lawsuits in general. That includes a bill by Sen. Nancy Skinner, a Berkeley Democrat, that would make it easier for courts to toss out environmental challenges they deem “frivolous” or “solely intended to cause unnecessary delay.” Another by Assemblymember Phil Ting, a San Francisco Democrat, would give local officials a deadline by which to approve or deny a project’s environmental review. The Ting proposal was fiercely opposed by many environmental activists and the State Building and Construction Trades Council, an umbrella group that represents many unionized construction workers. The bill would also make it more difficult for courts to award legal fees to groups that sue to block projects through CEQA. J.P. Rose, a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, which regularly brings such suits, called that provision “the largest weakening of CEQA in recent history.” The fact that this long list of bills passed the Legislature — some by healthy margins — amounts to a notable political shift, said Christopher Elmendorf, a law professor at UC Davis who advised Ting on the bill. “I think it illustrates that a sea change is underfoot in how people are starting to think about these environmental review laws,” he said, though he noted that the shift in California is still modest compared to those underway in other states.  Earlier this year, the Washington legislature nearly unanimously passed a law to exempt virtually all new urban housing from that state’s environmental protection law. The grand bargain continued Many of the California bills build on a law passed last year that streamlines affordable housing construction along commercial corridors.  In cobbling together the law, its author, Wicks, struck a compromise: In exempting certain housing projects from environmental challenge and other local hurdles, developers would pay workers a higher minimum wage, provide them with health care benefits and abide by other stricter labor standards. That trade was the key to winning the support of the state carpenters’ union and breaking up a legislative logjam that had stymied housing production bills for years.  It also provided a template for Wiener’s two streamlining bills this year, along with the Alvarez-Wicks CEQA exemption proposal.  “That really laid the foundation for those of us who did work in the housing space this year,” said Alvarez. “Our communities rely heavily on CEQA to be able to get more information about proposed developments that might be contributing to further pollution.”Grecia Orozco, staff attorney, the nonprofit Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment Not every pro-housing advocate or CEQA critic is so content with the bargain. “A lot of these bills help a little,” said Jennifer Hernandez, a land use attorney at the law firm Holland & Knight, who has catalogued CEQA challenges to housing projects for years. But she notes that swapping out the threat of environmental litigation with higher payroll expenses just replaces one cost with another.  In practice, she said, these exemptions are only likely to clear the way for substantial new housing construction in higher cost areas where developers can make up the difference by charging higher rents to non-subsidized residents. “You really need premium rentals to pay for those higher labor standards,” she said. But for many affordable housing developers, it’s still a trade worth making. “You’ve got really strong laws, clear exemptions, and an attorney general who’s willing to step up and say you got to build it,” said Mandolini with Eden Housing, who has been working on housing in the state for more than two decades. “This is the best it has been in California…If this had all existed 20 years ago, we might have built a lot more housing a lot faster.”

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