California May Expedite Housing Project Approval in Coastal Cities, Fire Zones With New Bill

California May Expedite Housing Project Approval in Coastal Cities, Fire Zones With New Bill

A construction worker builds housing in Huntington Beach, Calif., on March 17, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Rudy Blalock

Rudy Blalock

9/15/2023

Updated: 12/30/2023

California law, since 2018, has allowed for a streamlined approval process for certain affordable and multifamily housing projects, allowing developers to bypass timely and costly environmental reviews, public input, and receive expedited approval by local governments.
Signed into law by then Gov. Jerry Brown, Senate Bill 35 allows a streamlined approval process for such projects—excluding those in coastal and fire danger zones—in cities that have failed to meet state-mandated housing goals.
Now on the governor’s desk, Senate Bill 423, authored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), will extend the former law that expires after 2025 by a decade and include some coastal and fire hazard zones.
The bill passed the Assembly Sept. 7 in a 61 to 8 vote and the Senate Sept. 11 in a vote of 27 to 7.
“With the strengthened SB 35’s streamlining provisions, we’re bringing California’s ambitious housing goals within reach,” Mr. Wiener said in a Sept. 8 press release.
As also the author of the earlier bill, Mr. Wiener said in the press release such provisions under state law have “proven one of the strongest tools in our toolbox for driving affordable housing development,” which has helped develop over 18,000 units of affordable housing in the four years since SB 35 passed.
Under goals set forth by the state’s housing department, California must build 2.5 million new homes in the next eight years, including 1 million for families earning low to very low incomes.
With just a fraction of housing produced compared to the state’s goals, SB 35 was limited in its effectiveness due to increases in interest rates and building materials in the last few years, according to an Assembly floor analysis.
Labor standard requirements were also too strict, deterring development, according to the analysis, which said the law’s “essentially requiring” a union-only workforce was challenging for contractors in a state where fewer than 10,000 such workers are “skilled and trained.”
If signed into law, SB 423 would remove such a labor requirement for qualifying projects less than 85 feet in height. For larger projects, similar exemptions would be permitted when a qualifying workforce isn’t available, increasing the number of available workers tenfold, according to the analysis.
The pro-housing group, California YIMBY, or “Yes In My Backyard,” who co-sponsored the bill stated in a Sept. 12 press release that it will expand housing opportunities in areas that have long been opposed to new residential development, especially coastal communities.
The Oakland-based California Conference of Carpenters—which advocates for better working conditions for its workers—supports the bill and said it “will create massive work opportunities for current Union members and will also foster organizing opportunities unseen for decades.”
While SB 423 would remove the exclusion of coastal zones, areas identified as environmentally sensitive—such as those that could be affected by sea level rise—would still be exempt.
The bill would also streamline approval of projects in fire risk zones—as identified by the state’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection—so long as local and state-mandated fire mitigation protections are in place, according to the recent bill analysis.
However, the League of California Cities—a nonprofit advocating for cities across California—in a May letter opposed the bill alongside 108 other cities, stating it and the existing law create a one-size-fits-all approach that’s harmful to local jurisdictions.
“SB 423 is the latest overreaching bill. This measure would double-down on the recent trend of the state overriding its own mandated local housing plans by forcing cities to approve certain housing projects without regard to the needs of the community, opportunities for environmental review, or public input,” they said in the letter.
They argued the new bill would not help the state meet its housing goals and called on the governor and lawmakers to instead set aside $3 billion annually in the state’s budget for cities to spur residential development and deter homelessness to solve the housing crisis.
“California will never produce the number of homes needed with an increasingly state driven, by-right housing approval process. What is really needed is a sustainable state investment that matches the scale of this decades-in-the-making crisis,” they wrote.
The cities of Newport Beach, Beverly Hills, Tustin, Palm Desert, San Clemente, Huntington Beach, Thousand Oaks, Apple Valley, and 100 others were listed as opposed.
Additionally, other organizations, such as the Mission Economic Development Association—a nonprofit promoting economic equity for Latino communities—argued the bill isn’t doing enough to ensure affordable housing and advocated for amendments offering higher affordability requirements to meet the needs of low-income families.
They also advocated for other safeguards, including protecting areas at risk of displacing lower-income families from such streamlined projects.
 
 
Copy
facebooktwitterlinkedintelegram
Rudy Blalock

Rudy Blalock

Author

Rudy Blalock is a Southern California-based daily news reporter for The Epoch Times. Originally from Michigan, he moved to California in 2017, and the sunshine and ocean have kept him here since. In his free time, he may be found underwater scuba diving, on top of a mountain hiking or snowboarding—or at home meditating, which helps fuel his active lifestyle.

Author's Selected Articles
California Insider
Sign up here for our email newsletter!
©2024 California Insider All Rights Reserved. California Insider is a part of Epoch Media Group.