Child Care Could Get Easier for California Families

Legislation from State Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, would allow larger day care centers to forego costly permits and business licenses.


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State Sen. Nancy Skinner's legislation helps child care expansion.

Photo by Red Pepper 82

Deborah, 32, of Oakland gave birth to her son in October and is planning to head back to work soon. She’s been looking, and Googling, and talking to anyone she knows, about what kind of nanny or child care accepts babies. She toured a special graduate program at Mills Colllege, but the competition to get her son in is fierce, and she’s not sure he’ll earn a coveted spot. Needless to say, she’s pretty worried, and so far, not having much luck.

“They told me I should have applied when I was pregnant,” she said, adding that she wasn’t comfortable using her full name.

Deborah is not alone in her desperate search for child care, especially one that takes infants.

Today, licensed child care is available to less than one-quarter, specifically 23 percent, of children of working families, and the state has lost almost a third of its family child care homes since 2006, according to a 2017 report by The California Child Care Resource & Referral Network.

State Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, is trying to help small child care centers grow more easily from a maximum of eight children per center to 14. That in turn, she and others believe, would inevitably mean that more child care centers would be available as well as more opportunities for parents like Deborah to place their children before their preschool years. In addition, the bill would clarify and strengthen the existing language that ensures landlords of houses and apartments can’t turn away child care centers as tenants.

“Finding safe, affordable child care close to home shouldn’t have to feel like winning the lottery,” said Laurie Furstenfeld, senior staff attorney of the Berkeley-based Child Care Law Center, which pushed for the bill.

In February, Skinner unveiled the Keeping Kids Close to Home Act, which seeks to reduce costs and bureaucratic hurdles for child care providers statewide. The legislation, Senate Bill 234, would allow large family child care homes that provide care for up to 14 children to avoid costly and burdensome zoning and permitting requirements in order to help serve more kids and families.

Bottom line: The bill, if passed, would treat a large child care center just like a small one from a business permitting and zoning perspective. Small child care centers that serve up to eight children do not have to get business permits and pay zoning fees, and this bill would extend that same privilege to large family child care centers with up to 14 children. Fees vary, but in one Bay Area city, the business license is about $150 and the use fee is about $400.

“Family child care is vitally important for families and our communities,” Skinner said in a news release. “But child care has increasingly become too expensive and too difficult to find. In addition, many cities and counties have effectively blocked the creation or expansion of large family day care homes through onerous zoning laws and permitting regulations, leaving families with nowhere to turn.”

Ana Andrade-Wolf, owner of the Wolf Pack Childcare in San Rafael, who also helped craft the legislation, is hopeful that change will come. “People need to know how hard it is to have a child care in your home,” she said. “Your house becomes a public place. Your family life changes completely. On top of that, if you have cities asking you to get use permits, it makes it so much more difficult.”

Andrade-Wolf said she is not a traditional business selling wares with customers coming in and out of her home, and her business should be treated differently than, let’s say, a jewelry store or a dress shop, even though it’s in a residential neighborhood.

And if the bill passes and child care centers don’t need business permits, they theoretically wouldn’t appear to landlords as a “business,” something some landlords might want to block, Andrade-Wolf said. She said she feels that’s fair.

“So, you would rent to a family with three kids who have no regulations, but you wouldn’t rent to a child care provider who has to abide by state health and safety regulations?” she asked rhetorically.

Nearly 40 years ago, the state Legislature approved the Child Day Care Facilities Act in an effort to increase the availability of child care throughout California. That law allows small family day care homes that may provide care for up to eight children to be considered “a residential use” under local ordinances.

But the law has failed to keep up with the needs of modern families, Skinner said. Under her bill, large family day care homes that provide care to up to 14 children would receive the same exemptions under local neighborhood zoning and permitting laws that small family child care homes enjoy.

Some cities and counties, such as Pittsburg, Vallejo, and Novato, already do this, and have reformed their local ordinances to accommodate large family day care homes. Providers like Andrade-Wolf want these permit and fee waivers consistently provided throughout California.

Furstenfeld, from the child care law center, said this really is a win-win for providers who can expand their businesses with less headaches and for parents like Deborah, who wished they had started looking for childcare a year earlier.

“Family child care providers help working parents breathe easy,” she said.

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The author, Lisa Fernandez, is married to Robert Gammon, who is communications director and policy adviser for State Sen. Nancy Skinner, the sponsor of the legislation.

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