California Assembly Committee to Discuss Housing Crisis Bill

SB 330, the Housing Crisis Act of 2019, is making its way through the California Legislature, and will be heard by the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, August 21, 2019. Introduced by Senator Nancy Skinner in February and amended on August 12th, this bill declares a statewide housing crisis and proposes a dual solution: streamline the process for development of affordable housing and increase protections for displaced tenants.

The bill would make several changes to California’s Planning and Zoning Law, which establishes baseline requirements for development laws throughout the state that local governments implement, enforce, and may compliment with more restrictive ordinances. The changes proposed by SB 330 would remain in place for five years, through January 1, 2025, unless extended.

Below is a summary of SB 330’s key provisions:

Streamlined Review of Housing Development Applications. SB 330 would expedite the land use approval process for housing development projects by:

  • Limiting the number of hearings a local agency may hold for a housing project that is consistent with applicable general plan and zoning standards to five.
  • Requiring local agencies to approve or disapprove a housing development project (including mixed-use projects) within 90 days of certification of an EIR and within 60 days if it meets certain affordability requirements. Currently, the deadlines are 120 days and 90 days, respectively.
  • Establishing a new baseline for when a land use application is “deemed complete” to the date that a “preliminary application” is submitted. Each local agency would be required to create a checklist and application form for housing development projects, and publish both online. The preliminary application may only request specified, objective information. This provision creates a clear start to the clock for deadlines set forth in the Permit Streamlining Act that relate to the date an application is “deemed complete.” [It is also a primary reason that the League of California Cities opposes the bill, because of the risk that a project may be “deemed complete” before local planners have sufficient information about the project to determine whether project-specific fees are appropriate.]

Limits on Local Planning Powers. A city or county that is a census-designated “urban area” cannot, through its legislative body or electorate, adopt a development policy, standard, or condition that would impact parcels where housing is an allowable use in any of the following ways:

  • Change the general plan or specific plan land use designation or zoning to a less intensive use (i.e., from multi-family to single-family) than what was in effect on January 1, 2018. 
  • Impose or enforce a moratorium or similar restriction on housing development (including mixed-use), except to address an “imminent threat to the health and safety” of an identified group of residents and with prior approval of the State Department of Housing and Community Development.
  • Impose or enforce design standards unless they are “objective,” meaning the standards “involve no personal or subjective judgment by a public official” and are “uniformly verifiable by reference to an external and uniform benchmark or criterion.”
  • Place a cap on: (1) the number of land use approvals or permits necessary for housing construction that will be issued within the jurisdiction; (2) the number of housing units that can be approved; or (3) population. The only exceptions are for policies adopted prior to January 1, 2005 in predominantly agricultural counties.

Demolishing Existing Housing Comes at a Cost. Housing development projects submitted for approval after January 1, 2020 and that require demolition of existing residential units must:

  • Create at least as many residential units as will be demolished; and
  • If the existing residential units are “protected” (i.e., subject to rent control ordinances or occupied by income-qualifying tenants), provide concessions to displaced occupants, including: (1) the right to occupy the unit until six months before the start of construction activities; (2) relocation assistance; and (3) a right of first refusal for a comparable unit at the new development at an affordable rate.

SB 330 has attracted many supporters (including the Bay Area Council, Building Industry Association, California Realtors Association, chambers of commerce throughout the state, and SPUR) and opponents (including the League of California Cities and several cities throughout the State), and can be viewed in its entirety here.

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