Proposed California Ballot Initiative Seeks to Restrict Environmental Lawsuits on New Homes

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Proposed California Ballot Initiative Seeks to Restrict Environmental Lawsuits on New Homes

Construction crews work to complete a new medical facility at the University of California–Irvine in Irvine, Calif., on July 13, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

9/19/2023

Updated: 12/30/2023

A proposed ballot initiative introduced by a citizens’ group spearheaded by radio host Steve Hilton, seeks to cut down on environmental lawsuits—often filed against new housing projects—to make it easier for more Californians to buy homes.
The California Homeownership Affordability Act seeks to end “CEQA lawsuit abuse,” according to details filed Sept. 7 with the state attorney general’s office.
Housing is the foundation of the “California Dream” but has become out of reach for most residents, according to Mr. Hilton, a former FOX News host and Stanford University lecturer, who introduced the group’s proposed ballot initiative on his talk show “The Steve Hilton Show” earlier this month.
“It really is a crime the way that this housing issue has been handled,” Mr. Hilton said during the announcement. “We need something different. We need something bigger, and that’s what this is.”
The group behind the initiative—Californians for Homeownership—seeks to reduce California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) lawsuits filed by citizens and others against approved new housing projects, Mr. Hilton and his guest and co-organizer Jennifer Hernandez said on the show.  Such lawsuits, they said, are contributing to the state’s supply crisis.
Anyone in the state can file a CEQA lawsuit against any project, including housing or other infrastructure projects, after they have been approved by local and state jurisdictions. Those who file can also remain anonymous.
Signed into law by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1970, CEQA has been expanded over the years to allow lawsuits that can take five or more years to resolve and are often filed to delay or stop housing projects altogether, according to Ms. Hernandez.
“Anyone who doesn’t like a project after it’s been approved can sue,” Ms. Hernandez said. “It’s mostly used to block housing in existing communities, and also used to block all kinds of things.”
A lack of housing in the state has caused home prices to skyrocket in the past few decades since California first declared a severe housing shortage in 1982.
According to a report released in August by the California Association of Realtors, only 16 percent of Californians can afford to purchase a home—the lowest since before the 2007 recession.
Prolific state and local laws and regulations have also contributed to making building houses three times more expensive in California than in the rest of the country, according to Californians for Homeownership.
Also, since 1972, California has adopted thousands of strict environmental laws and regulations to protect air and water quality, endangered species and wetlands, forests and deserts, rivers and beaches, the health and safety of our communities and workforce, and more recently to address climate change, the group claims.
“California’s hard-working families should not have to win a lottery to have a home,” the organization stated in its filing with the Attorney General’s office. “California’s housing policies have failed and caused a housing policy crisis that has made housing and homeownership too expensive for too many for too long.”
New homes are built in the Portola Springs neighborhood of Irvine, Calif., on Feb. 16, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

New homes are built in the Portola Springs neighborhood of Irvine, Calif., on Feb. 16, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Mr. Hilton’s ballot initiative would appear on the 2024 general election ballot. First, the attorney general has 60 days after the filing to send the organization an official title and summary for the ballot. After that, organizers must collect 500,000 or more registered voter signatures to qualify for the ballot.
If approved and voters pass the measure, future CEQA lawsuits against housing, infrastructure, utility, and public service projects could only be filed by a district attorney in the county where the project was located. If a project is located in multiple counties, a CEQA lawsuit could only be filed by the state attorney general.
“The first policy change will be to remove all of these lawsuits to remove the private right to action,” Mr. Hilton said.
Cutting down on lawsuits would speed up the process of building homes, Ms. Hernandez added.
“Removing the CEQA litigation threat will streamline both the amount of time and money, and frankly lawyers needed, to get housing approved,” Ms. Hernandez said. “It should speed things up and make it less expensive and increase the supply. We would actually be able to build housing.”
Fees imposed by local agencies would also be capped and could not exceed 2 percent of the construction costs of new homes. Regulatory compliance costs imposed on projects by any state agency could additionally not exceed 1 percent of the total cost of construction.
The fee caps would not apply to those assessed by school districts, debt repayments for public financing, or the cost of providing utility service and roadway access to new homes.
Also as part of the act, each new home would contribute $300 to a revolving fund to provide down payment assistance to experienced construction workers as an incentive to remain in California instead of moving families to other states.
New homes built for rental housing would contribute $50 to the California Housing Finance Agency, which administers other down-payment assistance programs.
No more than 10 percent of the funds may be spent on administration and implementation costs for the program and the state auditor would review the collection, disbursement, and use of the funds two times per year.
This would end in 15 years or when the median price of new homes in the state is less than four times the median income of households by county.
Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

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Jill McLaughlin is an award-winning journalist covering politics, environment, and statewide issues. She has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Oregon, Nevada, and New Mexico. Jill was born in Yosemite National Park and enjoys the majestic outdoors, traveling, golfing, and hiking.

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