California State Senator Scott Wiener is continuing the Legislature’s efforts to address the State’s housing crisis with the introduction of a new bill that, while not changing a property’s zoning, would have the practical effect of “upzoning” areas well-served by transit to allow for the development of more housing. This proposed legislation comes on the heels of the enactment of 15 housing bills in the fall of 2017 and demonstrates Sacramento’s recognition that the State’s housing woes are unlikely to be fixed at the local level. Continue reading →
Californians could be forgiven for becoming cynical about our State Legislature’s willingness or ability to tackle the ever-worsening housing crisis. California’s rising home values, outpacing people’s ability to afford to buy or rent decent housing close to the job centers, is not a new phenomenon. But it has worsened. While our Legislature has repeatedly recognized that there is a housing crisis, nothing in the past legislative cycles has emerged that will actually stem the tide.
Could that be changing? In the current session, there are two bills sponsored by state senator Scott Wiener that are worth watching: SB 827 and SB 828. These two bills follow on Senator Wiener’s successful introduction of SB 35 last year. While SB 35 was intended to make certain types of urban infill housing “by-right,” Senator Wiener himself has recognized that SB 35 alone (with all of its qualifications and conditions) may not yield much in the way of new housing.
On February 1, 2018, the California Department of Housing and Community Development (“HCD”) released its much anticipated determination regarding the local governments that are now subject to streamlined entitlements for housing development under Senate Bill 35. HCD’s methodology for this determination utilizes pro-rated Regional Housing Needs Allocation (“RHNA”) targets for the local governments that have not yet reached the statutory reporting period. (Additional information regarding HCD’s methodology can be found here: http://www.hcd.ca.gov/community-development/housing-element/docs/SB35_DeterminationMethodology013118.pdf) Overall, the HCD release underscores the scope and scale of the housing shortage in California, and the opportunity for housing developers to benefit from a ministerial approval process for qualified housing projects.
On December 13, 2017, the Los Angeles City Council passed and Mayor Eric Garcetti signed a “linkage fee” ordinance that has been in the works for over two years and is projected to bring more than $100 million in annual revenue to the City. The ordinance was published on December 18, 2017.
On September 29th, Governor Brown signed a long-anticipated package of 15 housing-related bills, as summarized in our prior post, “California Legislature Passes Historic Housing Legislation in Effort to Tackle State’s Housing Crisis” (9/22/17). Collectively, these bills constitute the legislature’s farthest reaching action in years to address California’s ongoing housing crisis. Though the bills are expected to make only a small dent in California’s annual shortage of new housing stock, they are, at the very least, a resounding acknowledgment that the state’s housing crisis requires action at the highest level. This post highlights AB 1505, also known as the “Palmer Fix”.
On Friday, September 29th, Governor Brown signed a long-anticipated package of 15 housing-related bills, as summarized in our prior post, “California Legislature Passes Historic Housing Legislation in Effort to Tackle State’s Housing Crisis” (9/22/17). Collectively, these bills constitute the legislature’s farthest reaching action in years to address California’s ongoing housing crisis. Though the bills are expected to make only a small dent in California’s annual shortage of new housing stock, they are, at the very least, a resounding acknowledgment that the state’s housing crisis requires action at the highest level. This post highlights the core bills: SB 35 (which provides a streamlined entitlement process for qualifying projects), and SB 2 and SB 3 (both of which are intended to provide much-needed funding for affordable housing).
In an eleventh hour push at the tail end of the 2017 legislative session last week, California legislators passed a bundle of bills targeted at calming the state’s unprecedented housing crisis. Taken together, the bills address a wide swath of issues affecting housing production and affordability, including: funding for subsidized housing development, requirements for entitlement and permit streamlining, and tools for local and state agencies to enforce local planning obligations. This extensive legislative effort to reform California housing policy stands in stark contrast to the logjam that has vexed Sacramento lawmakers for years, if not decades. While the bills still require the signature of Governor Brown by mid-October, here is a first look at the pending changes to state housing law, including links to each of the bills. Continue reading →
When a city planning department proposes a change in the city’s development standards to address a specific planning concern, it often is asked by its city council “What are other cities doing?” This question is particularly likely when the proposed change, on its face, suggests that local residents might be inconvenienced. But in the face of increasing economic challenges, some California city councils are willing to pioneer creative planning approaches to stimulate economic activity in their cities, rather than let that activity land elsewhere.
One example is the adoption in late 2016 by the Lancaster City Council of an ordinance which eliminates specific off-street parking requirements (e.g., the number of spaces which must be provided based upon the square footage of the proposed development) for development in commercial zones. Instead of the arbitrary “one size fits all” approach for particular uses, Lancaster’s ordinance requires developers with projects in commercial zones to demonstrate that they are providing adequate parking for their proposed use without being tied to a formula which may or may not be a good measure of the demands of that use. One of the stated purposes of the ordinance is to maximize the City’s economic return from commercial development. In its report on the ordinance to the City Council, Lancaster’s planning staff expressed its belief that “the City’s minimum parking requirements were rooted primarily in a perception of convenience, and not in economic return.” The staff report recommending approval of the ordinance recognized that removing the “regulatory barrier” of formulaic minimum parking requirements in favor of requirements based on actual demand would give developers “the ability to maximize land use potential and value generation, with resulting long-term benefits to the City.” In other words, common sense planning can be a win-win.
From the perspective of the commercial developer, the adoption of Lancaster’s flexible approach to parking requirements is both enlightened and welcome. Most significantly, it reflects an acknowledgement of the many unintended consequences of the typical cookie-cutter approach to parking requirements. Perhaps most impressive is the recognition that rigid parking requirements dictate the design of buildings in ways that, ultimately, may contribute to vacancy and lost economic productivity for the city. Rather than an abstract, formulaic, or “this is how we’ve always done it” approach to planning, Lancaster’s approach reflects the uncommon understanding that what makes a project work for the developer also is likely to be what makes the project work for the city.
The City of Lancaster is located in northern Los Angeles County, relatively far from the hustle and bustle of the Los Angeles metropolitan area. While the remote location of Lancaster undoubtedly influenced its desire to take steps to enhance economic activity within its community, the logic of its new parking ordinance makes sense for any city competing for new economic activity. Beyond parking, this approach could open the door to merging planning and economic development considerations in other types of development. For example, the affordability of nearby housing for employees is a factor which impacts the decisions of businesses to locate within a particular community. For retail development in particular, more houses also means more customers which, in turn, generates greater economic activity for the city. Perhaps one day, California communities will see the wisdom of easing development standards and other regulations for housing to facilitate the production of desirable and affordable residential communities that will benefit home purchasers, tenants, the broader community, and even the city’s coffers. Stay tuned.
Environmental justice goals and policies are coming to the general plans of California cities and counties. So what does that mean for new development projects?
Timing. The new environmental justice requirements are the product of SB 1000, which was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown on September 24, 2016. Under SB 1000’s amendments to Government Code Section 65302, a local agency will now be required to address environmental justice issues when, on or after January 1, 2018, it concurrently adopts or revises two or more general plan elements. In those circumstances, the local agency must either adopt an environmental justice general plan element or include environmental justice goals, policies, and objectives in its existing general plan elements.
The Meaning of Environmental Justice. To better understand the environmental justice movement and the types of “EJ” provisions local agencies will be pressed to place in their general plans, it is helpful to look at the goals of the California Environmental Justice Alliance, which, along with the Sierra Club and other prominent environmental organizations, is one of the state’s strongest advocates for EJ legislation. The Alliance’s goals include assuring that all families live in healthy neighborhoods, that polluting industries are replaced by green industries, that planning priorities place people above profit, and that lower cost housing is not exposed disproportionately to sources of noise, air, and other pollution.
“Disadvantaged Communities.” Under the new law, all general plans must identify “disadvantaged communities” within their boundaries. These may be areas already identified under existing law in Cal EPA’s list of disadvantaged communities. Areas on that list are specifically targeted for the investment of funds generated by the California Air Resources Board’s cap-and-trade program for reducing greenhouse gases.
Alternatively, a “disadvantaged community” may be identified as a “low-income area” that the local agency has determined to be “disproportionately affected by environmental pollution and other hazards that can lead to negative health effects, exposure, or environmental degradation.” A “low-income area,” in turn, is an area with household incomes at or below 80% of the statewide median income or with household incomes at or below the low income threshold designated by the Department of Housing and Community Development.
SB 1000 appears to provide local agencies with considerable discretion in interpreting the boundaries of “disadvantaged communities,” which is likely to lead to different approaches to defining those boundaries throughout the state.
General Plan Requirements. So, what are the required policy considerations that these environmental justice general plan amendments must address? Pursuant to SB 1000, they must spell out objectives and policies that:
- Reduce the unique or compounded health risks in disadvantaged communities by means that include . . . the reduction of pollution exposure, including the improvement of air quality, and the promotion of public facilities, food access, safe and sanitary homes, and physical activity.
- Promote civil engagement in the public decisionmaking process.
- Prioritize improvements and programs that address the needs of disadvantaged communities.
As with the definition of “disadvantaged communities,” the interpretation of these broad policy statements is likely to lead to the implementation of the new law in vastly different ways.
Prudent Practices. Keeping in mind that all new development must be consistent with the provisions of the local general plan, landowners and developers should keep close tabs on general plan amendments implementing the new law so that their concerns are considered before the new general plan provisions are firmly in place.
In addition, developers should know exactly where their local agency stands in the process of making the required amendments. If a local agency has not timely made the required amendments, legal challenges are likely to confront projects approved when the local agency is not yet in compliance. Buyer beware: this should be a due diligence consideration when acquiring land, not merely something to address at the tail end of the entitlement process.
What the Future Holds. In the end, environmental justice issues are likely to play an increasingly significant role in all new development in California. Each local agency will approach its own EJ considerations in the context of its own political environment, its existing state of development, and its anticipated future development patterns. You should expect that some EJ general plan amendments will contain mundane and less impactful requirements, while others will contain more aggressive provisions that easily could jeopardize the viability of a project.
Given the broad, generalized requirements of the new law, and the likelihood that its provisions will be interpreted and applied in varying ways by local jurisdictions throughout the state, rest assured that the courts will play a key role in shaping the scope of environmental justice requirements throughout California. This definitely falls within the category of “Stay Tuned.”
In the legal world, the word “dictum” refers to words in a court opinion which are best considered non-binding “remarks” or “comments.” Relying on dictum in a 2006 Supreme Court decision, the California State University Board of Trustees (the “University”) concluded that paying its fair share of offsite mitigation related to the traffic impacts of its proposed expansion of the San Diego State University campus was “infeasible.” Under CEQA, a proper finding of infeasibility would have allowed the University to adopt a Statement of Overriding Considerations and avoid the University’s fair share of offsite traffic mitigation. The only factual basis for the University’s finding of infeasibility was that the Legislature had not earmarked specific funds to cover the University’s traffic mitigation costs and was not likely to do so.
This week, the California Supreme Court issued a decision in City of San Diego v. Board of Trustees of the California State University stating in a moment of candor that the dictum which had been relied upon by the University was “simply an overstatement.” The Court concluded that the University failed to address the availability of funding from other sources and could not support its claim that using other funds available to the University for offsite mitigation would be an illegal gift of public funds. The Court agreed with the position urged by the City of San Diego, stating that under the University’s reasoning “off-site mitigation would likely be found infeasible for many, if not all, state projects that receive non-state funding, and more such projects would proceed without mitigation pursuant to statements of overriding considerations.” Because the Court concluded that the absence of earmarked funds did not make the University’s participation in the mitigation infeasible, the Statement of Overriding Considerations was invalid.
Although the specific holdings of this case apply to State agencies, the decision is an important reminder of the care that must be taken with any project, whether private or public, in making proper findings to support a Statement of Overriding Considerations. To support a Statement of Overriding Considerations, CEQA requires both (i) that a finding be made that there are specific considerations which make identified mitigation measures or alternatives infeasible and (ii) that there are “overriding economic, legal, social, technological, or other benefits of the project” which outweigh the project’s significant unmitigated impacts. For the first finding, CEQA defines “feasible” to mean “capable of being accomplished in a successful manner within a reasonable period of time, taking into account economic, environmental, legal, social, and technological factors.” Therefore, in the City of San Diego case, once the Court determined that reliance on the Legislature’s failure to earmark mitigation funds did not alone make the University’s fair share traffic mitigation obligation “infeasible,” the Statement of Overriding Considerations was doomed.