Last September, Robert Rivinius stepped down as president and CEO of the California Building Industry Association (CBIA), turning over the reins to Elizabeth Snow, whom the group chose as his replacement after an 18-month search. During his three decades in that post, Rivinius guided the 66-year-old organization through several housing booms and busts. The association was instrumental in helping to shape land-use and growth policies, even as local and state governments imposed regulations and fees aimed at limiting the expansion of California’s built environment.
Rivinius still serves as an advisor on CBIA’s staff. He is working on expanding the group’s convention, PCBC, and on lowering his 18 handicap “which will take a real positive attitude,” he laughs.
Q: During your tenure, what changes had the greatest impact, positively or negatively, on California’s builders and developers?
A: The passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, which rolled property taxes back to 1 percent and capped them there, with a two-thirds vote required to raise them. That led to impact fees being adopted to create infrastructure and other services that have escalated to $40,000, $50,000, and even over $100,000 per home. The second major impact has been the whole environmental movement, which has taken the entitlement process from six months to anywhere from five to 10 years … [and has] added as much as 50 percent to the price of a home in California.
Q: What were the association’s noteworthy accomplishments in this era?
A: Most notable would be a new system to finance schools construction that capped developer fees and provided state and local funding, and our “right to repair” legislation that so far looks like it will help curb frivolous construction dispute lawsuits. We also stopped hundreds of bad bills from being passed.
Q: What potential challenges do you foresee for builders?
A: First, we have to get past this awful economic slump. Housing production in the mid-2000s was over 200,000 starts per year here and [in 2009] will be just 38,000, an all-time low since World War II. Financing projects is a huge problem, too, and will take creative thinking and innovation in the future.