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California Expedites Housing Project Approvals in Coastal Cities, Fire Zones

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California Expedites Housing Project Approvals in Coastal Cities, Fire Zones

Housing units in Huntington Beach, Calif., on March 17, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Rudy Blalock

Rudy Blalock

1/10/2024

Updated: 1/16/2024

A revised California law that allows for the streamlined approval of certain affordable or multifamily housing projects will now allow for such to be built in coastal and fire zones in cities without an approved state-mandated housing plan, after the passing of Senate Bill 423 in October.
“California desperately needs to ramp up housing production, and the Governor’s action today helps put us on a path to achieve that goal,” said Assemblyman Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) in a statement on the day the governor signed the measure. “The era of saying no to housing is coming to an end. We’ve been planting seeds for years to get us to a brighter housing future, and today we’re continuing strongly down that path.”
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 low- to very-low-income families.
According to an analysis of the new law by state lawmakers, coastal zones that are “environmentally sensitive”—such as those that could be affected by sea level rise—are still exempt.
For areas identified as fire zones, developers can only pursue projects where local and state mandated fire mitigation protections are in place.
The League of California Cities—a nonprofit that advocates for cities across the state—opposed the now law alongside 108 other cities, stating that it and 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,” the organization’s letter of opposition, from May, reads.
Beachfront homes in Laguna Beach, Calif., on Jan 18, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Beachfront homes in Laguna Beach, Calif., on Jan 18, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

They argued the legislation wouldn’t 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 use to spur residential development.
“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, Thousand Oaks, Apple Valley, Huntington Beach, and 100 others were listed as opposed to the legislation before the new law was signed.
In an interview after Gov. Newsom signed the new law, Huntington Beach Councilman Casey McKeon told The Epoch Times he believes it is another one of the state’s overreaching policies that force housing in the wrong places.
“It’s just another heavy-handed overreach from the state that violates our local control. If they really want to develop affordable housing, they should encourage development in undeveloped areas and stop trying to jam more units into fully developed cities,” he said at the time.
Costa Mesa Councilman Don Harper, also told The Epoch Times he’s opposed to the new law although the city he represents didn’t oppose the bill.
“If the state of California is going to mandate how we fulfill our housing needs, what’s the purpose of local government?” he told The Epoch Times, also in a recent interview.
According to Mr. Wiener in a press release last year, the previous law on the issue, which was just revamped, has “proven one of the strongest tools ... for driving affordable housing development.” According to the senator, the older law has helped develop more than 18,000 affordable-housing units in the four years since it was enacted in 2018.
According to an Assembly analysis before the law was passed, the older law was limited in its effectiveness not only because it excluded coastal and fire zones but also because of increases in interest rates and building materials in the last few years, which limited new home construction. Certain labor requirements, the analysis said, were also too strict.
However, under the new law, some labor requirements have been removed.
Homes in Newport Beach, Calif., on Jan. 18, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Homes in Newport Beach, Calif., on Jan. 18, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

The Oakland-based California Conference of Carpenters—which advocates better working conditions for its workers—supported the bill and said it “will create massive work opportunities for current Union members and will also foster organizing opportunities unseen for decades.”
In California, cities who fail to adopt a state approved so-called housing element in time can also face other repercussions, such as what is known as “builders remedy,” which allows developers to ignore certain local zoning, density, or land-use regulations for proposed developments that include 20 percent “affordable” units sold below market rate.
One California city, La Cañada Flintridge, recently was called out by Attorney General Bonta who requested in December a Los Angeles Superior Court judge “uphold California’s housing laws” and reverse the city’s denial of a housing project submitted under builders’ remedy.
The city—located about 15 miles north of Los Angeles—denied an 80-unit multifamily housing development last year, without the authority to do so, according to Mr. Bonta.
“Since California strengthened its housing laws, cities have attempted, unsuccessfully, to skirt these rules. La Cañada Flintridge is another community making excuses rather than building their fair share of housing,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a joint press release with Mr. Bonta in December.
The city was late on having its approved state-mandated housing plan that shows zoning for a specific amount of new housing. Such are required every eight years. The most recent deadline was October 2021, with La Cañada Flintridge only obtaining its approval in November.
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.

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