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State, county and planning organizations take positions on myriad of housing bills moving through Sacramento

The American Planning Association, California Chapter, the League of California Cities, the Rural County Representatives of California, the California State Association of Counties and the organization of Urban Counties of California have released a major position piece on a long list of new and existing housing bills coming up for vote in Sacramento.

A copy of their publication is linked here and attached below.

Most of this proposed legislation would add increasingly draconian measures to strip local city and county government of zoning and development approval authority, add punitive penalties and increase local government compliance costs, while doing almost nothing to actually assist in the creation of affordable housing. This incremental reduction in the powers of locally elected governments is a troubling trend that growing rapidly.

Of significant concern among these is AB 1515 and SB 35.

AB 1515

The consortium of agencies noted above oppose AB 1515 and comment on it by saying:

This bill specifies that a housing development project or emergency shelter is “deemed consistent, compliant, and in conformity” with an applicable plan, ordinance, or other similar provision if there is substantial evidence that would allow a reasonable person to conclude that the project is consistent, compliant, or in conformity.

We have no problem with the “reasonable person” portion of this new standard. However, the “deemed consistent” automatic approval should be deleted - it goes too far and upends the accountability for local land use decision-making. Under current law, a city council or board of supervisors weighs the evidence and reaches a decision based on established principles of democratic decision-making -- local governments are ultimately held accountable for their decisions by the local electorate.

AB 1515 would replace the judgment of local elected officials with that of any "reasonable person," including the project developer who has a fundamental economic interest in the project. When fundamental land use decisions, like general plan consistency, are made by developers rather than elected representatives, local government accountability is compromised and the recourse available to the electorate is taken away.

AB 1515 will allow the applicant, rather than the local agency or a judge, to determine consistency of a development with the General Plan and zoning by allowing the applicant to provide contrary reasons why the project is consistent. As a result, the issue will be whether a “reasonable person” could conclude that the project is consistent – not whether the city or county had substantial evidence to back up its conclusion.

SB 35

Regarding SB 35, they note that

This bill requires cities and counties to offer to developers a new ministerial approval process for developments that meet certain conditions, including inclusionary units and prevailing wage, if a local agency does not “meet” its RHNA by income level. The bill also adds new requirements to the annual report, including the number of units entitled.

Although we are supportive of streamlined housing approvals, this bill unfortunately imposes consequences on a city or county based on actions beyond their control and that can only be completed by the developer. Our organizations believe that the trigger for the ministerial approval process should be based on the number of entitled and approved applications, a process that a local agency controls, rather than building permits, which a developer will not pull until they are ready to construct a project entitled by a local government.

Additionally, a “safe harbor” for pro-housing communities must be included in SB 35 so that these communities are not punished for actions/circumstances they do not control.

The attached report also provides a full summary of changes to state housing laws since 1999. The list of rights and powers of local governments and locally elected officials that have been extinguished or severely restricted is truly staggering. California is rapidly moving to become a state run enterprise with more and more decisions about land use, zoning and housing development being dictated from above by unelected state agencies and major lobbying groups.

And yet, in the past 18 years, under this siege of top down directives, restrictions, reporting and compliance requirements and penalties (all of which are ultimately regressive and add to the cost of development), the affordable housing crisis continues to get worse and the cost of housing continues to rise.

Is it time to reconsider our approach?


For more thoughts on this question, see Housing Issues in Marin: Part I and Part II.