Governor Vetoes AB 890, Rejecting Attempt to Curtail Initiative Power on Land Use Actions

On October 15, Governor Brown vetoed AB 890, a bill that would have limited the use of the voter initiative to effect certain land use actions.  In his veto message, Governor Brown noted his concerns regarding a “piecemeal” approach to California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) reform, stating instead his preference for a more “comprehensive approach” that balances the need for more housing and environmental analysis.  Industry observers also had raised concerns regarding the constitutionality of the bill’s attempted limits on the initiative power.

Initially introduced as a response to concerns that large development projects could circumvent environmental review under CEQA through the voter initiative process, early drafts of AB 890 would have (i) required CEQA review prior to placing certain land use actions on the ballot and (ii) prohibited the use of a voter-sponsored initiative for projects that may have a significant effect on the environment.  Subsequent amendments to AB 890, however, removed the requirement for CEQA review  of voter-sponsored initiatives.

The final incarnation of AB 890 presented to the Governor would have prohibited the use of the voter initiative process (by delegating exclusive authority to city councils/boards of supervisors) to adopt or amend any general plan, specific plan, or zoning ordinance in a manner that would (i) convert any discretionary land use approval necessary for a project to a ministerial approval; (ii) change the land use or zoning designation of property to a more intensive designation; or (iii) authorize more intensive land use within an existing designation.  The bill included limited exceptions for affordable housing, voter approvals required by state or local law, and other specified circumstances.  AB 890 also would have prohibited the adoption of a development agreement by initiative.  Incidentally, an indirect effect of AB 890 would have been to subject projects that could no longer be approved by voter initiative to CEQA review.

Cox Castle & Nicholson has extensive experience in the use of the initiative process as a tool for securing approvals for projects that may face obstacles in the entitlements process. Please contact a member of your Cox Castle Land Use team for more information, and continue to stay tuned to Cox, Castle & Nicholson’s Lay of the Land blog in the coming weeks for additional in-depth analysis and insights regarding the 2017 legislative session.

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