Governor Gavin Newsom
Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed more draconian housing bills into law. The new State legislation continues the trend of giving a blank check to real estate developers by letting them do almost anything they want to our neighborhoods without any local input.
Since 2008 and accelerating in 2016, State lawmakers have been following the same playbook (Power Players’ Problematic Playbook), which has been largely written by the lobbying efforts of Big Real Estate, Big Tech, and Big Wall Street Investment Firms in order to augment their investments in residential properties.
To maximize profits from their residential property portfolios, the Power Players have sought to change land use policy and regulations. They have been successful. Recently enacted housing laws take away local control of residential land use and give it to real estate developers to maximize their return on investment (ROI); lower the cost of residential construction via deregulation (E.g. weakening CEQA and development standards (parking, setbacks, height, etc.)) and lower developer fees; raise the value of residential properties via up-zoning (increasing density); and increase rental income by promoting market-rate housing over affordable housing.
Deregulation has included removing democratic public engagement and due process, such as public hearings and environmental analysis. No longer does the local city council, with residents’ input, make decisions. Instead, real estate investors and developers determine where and how much housing growth will occur, with no regard for local conditions, capacity, or adverse impacts.
The subsequent housing densification, population growth, and revision of development standards will increase the risk of adverse impacts on the environment, public health and safety, traffic congestion, infrastructure, utilities (water supply), public services (schools), views, sunlight, privacy, neighborhood character, and quality of life.
In this age of more frequent and severe wildfires across California, it is especially disconcerting that the new laws mandate higher density housing, increased population growth, and elimination of off-street parking in High Fire Severity Zones with inadequate and unsafe access and evacuation routes. As housing density and population increase and off-street parking is eliminated, the fire prone neighborhoods will become even more congested with vehicles parked on both sides of the streets. Dire consequences could result during an emergency when residents are unable to evacuate and fire trucks/ paramedics are unable to reach their destinations.
Yet, real estate investors and housing developers are allowed to make billions without paying anything to offset the adverse impacts caused by all the new housing overstressing our local infrastructure. With no funding for dealing with the above listed impacts, tax paying residents bear the costs of the increased demand and mitigation of environmental impacts, if mitigation is even possible.
For years, the Power Players' and State lawmakers' propaganda has claimed that their agenda will result in more affordable housing. Yet, more than half of Californians are still concerned about their ability to pay housing costs, according to the results of a 2022 Survey conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California. Middle and working-class Californians continue to be rent burdened, drowning in sky-high rents charged by corporate landlords, major real estate companies, and predatory landlords. The number of California’s homeless has risen to over 170,000. It’s obvious that the Power Players’ Playbook only benefits the Power Players.
THE NEW STATE LEGISLATION
Last year (2021) Newsom signed a suite of 31 housing bills into law. Many followed the Power Players Playbook: more loss of local control, more streamlining and deterioration of CEQA, more density, more weakening of development standards (parking, setbacks, height, etc.), and more penalties for cities/counties that don’t toe the line. The most egregious 2021 housing law was SB-9, which lets developers tear down the single-family house right next door to you and build a multi-unit, multi-story building “by right” without attending a public hearing, conducting an environmental review, providing onsite parking, or building affordable housing. Neither you nor your local government have any say in the matter.
New laws, enacted this year (2022), expand Developers’ “uses permitted by right” even more. Multifamily, multi-story housing is now allowed “by right” almost everywhere – on single family parcels, school lands, church grounds, commercial (office & retail) properties, and parking lots. Off-street parking requirements are either negligible or nonexistent and setbacks are reduced to just 4 feet. Safety, views, sunlight, privacy, and gardens are things of the past. The Power Players’ and Sacramento’s vision for our new neighborhood character is a congested concrete desert.
More specifically, the new 2022 laws let developers do the following “by right”:
“Use Permitted by Right” means a permitted use that is approved administratively (over the counter) and does not require a public hearing or environmental review in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
- Increase the number of bedrooms in a dwelling, thereby increasing potential population. (AB-916)
- Build Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) two stories high. (SB-897) (AB-2221)
- Disregard front setbacks when constructing an ADU. Previous laws prohibited a local agency from requiring side and rear setbacks that are greater than 4 feet. Now a local agency cannot establish limits on front setbacks that make it impossible to build an ADU. (AB-2221)
- Disregard providing onsite parking for residential or commercial developments that are located within ½ mile of a major transit stop or a high-quality transit corridor. (AB-2097)
- Reduce church parking by 50% when constructing both a new house of worship and housing. (AB-2244)
- Build a housing development that is 33 feet or three stories above the local height limit with unlimited density if the project is located in an urbanized “very low vehicle travel area” and at least 80 percent of the units are restricted to lower income households. (AB-2334)
- Build 100% affordable housing projects in commercial zones and mixed-income housing projects along commercial corridors, as specified. (AB-2011)
- Build faculty, staff and student housing projects on land owned by a local educational agency (LEA) and meeting specified requirements. (AB-2295) (SB-886)
Below are more detailed descriptions of some of the new detrimental housing laws, which will go into effect on January 1, 2023.
AB-916 prohibits a city or county legislative body from adopting or enforcing an ordinance requiring a public hearing as a condition of reconfiguring existing space to increase the bedroom count within an existing dwelling unit. The bill would apply these provisions only to a permit application for no more than 2 additional bedrooms within an existing dwelling unit.
Arguments in opposition to AB-916:
Opponents argue that increasing bedrooms and thereby increasing potential population in a community without environmental review could lead to insufficient infrastructure and utilities. It could also lead to overcrowding in a home and health and safety issues.
For those living within a half-mile of rail transit, a ferry terminal with a bus stop or a bus stop with service at least every 15 minutes during rush hour, SB-897 allows new accessory dwelling units to be built two stories tall, regardless of local regulations.
More specifically, this bill would increase the maximum height limitation that may be imposed by a local agency on an accessory dwelling unit to 18 feet if the accessory dwelling unit is within 1/2 mile walking distance of a major transit stop or a high-quality transit corridor, as those terms are defined, or if the accessory dwelling unit is detached and on a lot that has an existing multifamily, multistory dwelling, as specified. The bill would increase the maximum height limitation that may be imposed by a local agency on an accessory dwelling unit to 25 feet if the accessory dwelling unit is attached to a primary dwelling, except as specified.
In addition, SB-897 includes special districts and utilities in the definition of a “permitting agency” and thereby requires these entities to also meet the 60-day approval timeline.
Arguments in opposition of SB-897:
Specifically, SB 897 would require local jurisdictions to:
Allow ADUs to be constructed with a height of up to 25 feet near transit. Current law appropriately authorizes cities and counties to restrict ADU height to 16 feet, thus helping ensure that these accessary units blend into the existing neighborhood. Mandating that local jurisdictions allow essentially two-story ADUs is completely contrary to the stated belief that ADUs are a way to increase density in a modest fashion that is not disruptive to established communities. Shoehorning a 25-foot structure into a backyard of a single-story ranch style home, that is within one half mile of public transit, calls to question the idea that these are “accessory dwelling units.” It also disregards the adverse impacts on neighbors’ sunlight, view, and privacy.
Permit constructed ADUs in violation of State building standards and in violation of local zoning requirements. Current law already requires cities and counties to approve ADUs ministerially, without discretionary review. Expanding this to prohibit local jurisdictions from denying permits for already constructed ADUs that fail to comply with State mandated building standards or local zoning requirements could result in dangerous or substandard living conditions.
Allow two ADUs to be constructed on a lot if a multifamily dwelling is proposed to be developed. SB 897 would allow a property owner to construct two ADUs on a vacant parcel years before the proposed multifamily structure begins construction. Additionally, there is no guarantee that the multifamily structure will ever be constructed. It is unclear why local jurisdictions should be forced to allow ADUs to be constructed before the originally proposed multifamily structure. Constructing an ADU without a primary structure makes them accessory to nothing, but rather a standalone unit.
According to the Assembly Floor Analysis, AB-2221 was sponsored by CA YIMBY.
AB-2221 specifies that an accessory dwelling unit that is detached from the proposed or existing primary dwelling may include a detached garage.
Previous ADU laws prohibited a local agency from establishing limits on rear or side setbacks greater than 4 feet. AB-2221 additionally prohibits a local agency from establishing limits on front setbacks that make it impossible to build an ADU.
AB-2221 raises heights to those of SB-897 to facilitate 2 story ADUs:
For an attached ADU, which are attached to the primary dwelling, the minimum height limit is raised from 16 feet to 25 feet or the local agency’s applicable height limit.
For a detached ADU within ½ mile walking distance of a major transit stop or high-quality transit corridor, the height limit is raised from 16 feet to 18 feet.
For all detached ADUs on a lot that has an existing multifamily, multistory dwelling, the minimum height is increased from 16 to 18 feet.
Arguments in opposition to AB-2221:
Opponents of AB-2221 argue that the bill goes too far in pushing a use that is meant to be "accessory," particularly as it relates to allowing ADUs in front setbacks. According to the City of Newport Beach, "this will have the unintended consequence of completely changing the character of all neighborhoods."
AB-2097 prohibits a public agency from imposing any minimum automobile parking requirement on a residential, commercial, or other development project, as defined, that is located within 1 ⁄2 mile of public transit, as defined.
“Public transit” means a "major transit stop" or "high-quality transit corridor" as defined in Section 21155 of the Public Resources Code."
A "major transit stop" means a site containing an existing rail transit station, a ferry terminal served by either a bus or rail transit service.
A "high quality transit corridor" the intersection of two or more major bus routes with a frequency of service interval of 15 minutes or less during the morning and afternoon peak commute periods.
The only exceptions from the bill are hotels, motels, bed & breakfasts, and transient lodging.
Arguments in opposition to AB-2097:
AB 2097 would essentially allow developers, not locally elected public officials, to dictate parking requirements in large areas of a jurisdiction because the definition of public transit includes entire bus routes with fifteen-minute service intervals. Restricting parking requirements within one-half mile of a high-frequency transit route does not guarantee individuals living, working, or shopping on those parcels will actually use transit. Many residents will continue to own automobiles and require nearby parking, which will only increase parking demand and congestion.
The one-size-fits-all approach is over-reaching and inappropriate when good and convenient transit is not available in most communities across California. Moreover, transit ridership is the lowest it has been in years.
Walking 1/2 mile and using public transit is an unacceptable means of transportation for most residents in suburbs with subpar public transportation, especially families with children, the elderly and infirm, and blue-collar workers with tools to transport.
The bill endangers communities with inadequate and unsafe access and evacuation routes during emergencies due to streets being overcrowded with parked vehicles, and pounds another nail in the coffin of local retail stores.
AB-2244 allows a developer of a new place of worship, when also constructing housing, to reduce by 50 percent the number of religious use parking spaces that would be required for a newly constructed place of worship.
AB-2334 allows a housing development project in 17 specified counties to receive an added height increase of 33 feet or three stories and unlimited density if the project is located in an urbanized very low vehicle travel area, at least 80 percent of the units are restricted to lower income households, and no more than 20 percent are for moderate income households.
Excerpt from the text of AB-2334:
“ ‘Very low vehicle travel area’ means an urbanized area, as designated by the United States Census Bureau, where the existing residential development generates vehicle miles traveled per capita that is below 85 percent of either regional vehicle miles traveled per capita or city vehicle miles traveled per capita. For purposes of this paragraph, “area” may include a travel analysis zone, hexagon, or grid. For the purposes of determining “regional vehicle miles traveled per capita” pursuant to this paragraph, a “region” is the entirety of incorporated and unincorporated areas governed by a multicounty or single-county metropolitan planning organization, or the entirety of the incorporated and unincorporated areas of an individual county that is not part of a metropolitan planning organization.”
Senate Amendments Include chaptering amendments to address a conflict with AB 682 and limit the bill's provisions to the Counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, Sonoma, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Ventura, Sacramento, and Santa Barbara.
AB-2011 enacts the "Affordable Housing and High Road Jobs Act of 2022" to create a ministerial, streamlined approval process for 100% affordable housing projects in commercial zones and for mixed-income housing projects along commercial corridors, as specified. The bill would also impose specified labor standards on those projects, including requirements that contractors pay prevailing wages, participate in apprenticeship programs, and make specified healthcare expenditures.
Approval process: This bill would require housing to be "by right" if it conforms to the specified provisions regarding affordability, location, objective standards, and labor. In being by right, it would not be subject to a local government's discretionary approval process and would be exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act. Local governments would be able to apply objective standards and design review processes as long as they do not conflict with the provisions in the bill and do not preclude development of the housing.
Arguments in opposition to AB-2011:
The cities in opposition to the bill argue that it would remove local control and the ability of cities to determine the adequacy of sites for housing and the ability to provide affiliated infrastructure. They also express concern over a potential reduction in tax revenue from the loss of commercial properties.
AB 2011 disregards this state-mandated local planning effort and forces cities to allow housing developments in nearly all areas of a city. This seriously questions the rationale for the regional housing needs allocation (RHNA) process. If developers can build housing in office, retail, and parking areas, why should cities go through the multiyear planning process to identify sites suitable for new housing units, only to have those plans ignored and housing built on sites never considered for new housing?
Eliminating opportunities for public review of housing developments goes against the principles of transparency and public engagement. Public hearings allow members of the community to inform their representatives of their support or concerns. “Streamlining” in the context of AB 2011 is a shortcut around public input. While it may be frustrating for some developers to address neighborhood concerns about traffic, parking, and other development impacts, those directly affected by such projects should be heard. Public engagement often leads to better projects. Disregarding community input will increase public distrust in government and may result in additional efforts by voters to restrict growth.
SB-886 exempts, until January 1, 2030, faculty, staff and student housing projects built on land owned by UC, CSU or community colleges and meeting specified requirements from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
Arguments in opposition to SB-866:
Weakening the California Environmental Quality Act is misguided.
A CEQA exemption removes the ability of local governments to be fully informed of the project’s potential environmental consequences. Without that review, a local government would not be properly informed of traffic impacts, air impacts, or compatible use issues. It is unacceptable for the public to live with the consequences of a project that would not be fully vetted and whose impacts were not mitigated and alternatives not considered.
The California Environmental Quality Act, which became law in 1970, is our state’s landmark environmental law. Its purpose is to foster transparency and integrity in public decision-making while ensuring land use decisions take the full impacts of development on our natural and human environments into account. It is one of the most powerful environmental protection laws in the nation.
CEQA gives the community a voice in land use decisions. It requires decision-makers to adopt alternatives or mitigation measures to reduce significant adverse environmental impacts. As such, it plays a critical role in preserving and enhancing California’s public health, safety, and the environment.
The Act was designed to ensure that a project applicant—not the public—bears the costs of providing the necessary infrastructure to support a project. It also provides the public and decision-makers with “the big picture” and helps ensure that many small projects are not considered separately, only to overwhelm a community when taken as a whole.
AB-2295 allows Local Educational Agencies (LEA) (AKA Schools and Colleges) to build apartments for their employees on their land, regardless of local zoning.
Arguments in opposition to AB-2295:
The primary purpose of schools is to teach. As communities grow in population, they will need more classrooms in order to teach more students. Where will these classrooms go if the school grounds are covered with housing? Moreover, children need outdoor space to play and exercise.
Tying housing to employment is reminiscent to indentured servantry and could worsen working conditions for teachers by giving employers an unfair advantage. Teachers may feel compelled to continue working in abusive conditions if resigning means losing not only income but their homes too.
Changing the use of land without environmental review could result in unmitigated adverse impacts.
1. Support the Our Neighborhood Voices Initiative.
To dismantle the "Power Players’ Problematic Playbook", please support the Our Neighborhood Voices Initiative. The Initiative, if successful, will amend the State Constitution to ensure zoning, land-use and development decisions are made at the local level and to stop the multitude of legislative bills that seek to override municipal and county control over land-use and development.
2. Lobby Your Supervisors, City Mayors, and City Councilmembers to join the Senate Bill 9 Lawsuit.
The lawsuit could roll back Senate Bill 9.
Please click HERE to learn more about SB-9.
Please click HERE to learn more about SB-9 lawsuit.
3. Lobby Your Supervisors, City Mayors, and City Councilmembers to join the lawsuit against HCD.
The law firm of Aleshire and Wynder is seeking petitioners (cities, counties, and government agencies) to jointly file a legal action against the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) for violations of state statutes and other actions that are placing illegitimate housing quota burdens on California cities and counties, quotas that are unsupported by facts and available data on future housing needs.
Please click HERE to learn more about the Regional Housing Needs Allocation State Audit and Potential Lawsuit against HCD by California Cities and Counties.