California lawmakers are weighing several ideas to encourage – or force – cities and counties to speed up the approval process for housing projects.
The proposals are part of negotiations between Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic legislative leaders, who have vowed to bring forward a package of bills later this month to address California’s high cost of living.
The most controversial bill, SB 35, would force cities and counties that fail to meet state-mandated housing production goals to approve multi-family development projects that meet certain requirements, like paying construction workers a prevailing wage.
“We need local control in terms of deciding where communities put the housing, how they’re designed. We want communities to be able to figure out what works for them,” says Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco), the bill’s author. “But local control is about how a community meets its housing goals – not whether it meets its housing goals.”
His bill would apply to every form of multi-unit housing – from market rate to very low-income.
“Right now, there are communities that are opting out of creating any housing,“ Weiner says. “And that should not be allowed. Every community needs to participate.”
But the League of California Cities opposes the measure.
“There should be a safe harbor for those cities that are truly doing everything they can do,“ says the League’s Jason Rhine. “They shouldn’t be penalized and have to streamline.”
Rhine argues the bill would apply to nearly every local government – because the housing goals set by the state are so hard to reach.
“Even those cities that are the most progressive and most pro-housing are going to fall under this mandatory streamlining, via no fault of their own,“ Rhine says. “They’ve done everything in their power to streamline at the local level – their door is wide open for development – but a lack of resources for affordable housing is going to force them into having to comply with SB 35.”
The League of Cities prefers another bill, SB 540, that would allow local governments to create priority housing zones with front-loaded planning and environmental reviews, in which qualifying development projects would be guaranteed expedited approval.
Then, there’s a third proposal, AB 73. It’s similar to SB 540, except participating cities would win incentive payments from the state.
These two proposals would apply to single-family home projects as well as multi-family developments.
In the end, it’s quite possible that all three measures will pass the Legislature as part of the overall housing deal. Lawmakers could vote on the bills when they return from summer recess later this month.