Picking up where they left off at the end of the 2017 legislative session, California lawmakers in both the House and Senate advanced several bills aimed at increasing the supply of affordable housing. These include efforts to modify laws related to the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) and Housing Element, override local zoning requirements, and produce accessory dwelling units.
SB 828 Land Use: Housing Element, authored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), would require the State’s Housing and Community Development Department (HCD) to address the underproduction of housing. This bill would require cities and counties to meet 125% of their RHNA requirements in their inventories. Where that is not possible, cities and counties would be required to identify ways in which it will accommodate their RHNA, such as through rezoning. HCD would be required to complete a comprehensive assessment on the unmet needs for each region, and include the results of the assessment in regional allocations for the next housing element cycle. HCD would have to establish a methodology for the comprehensive assessment on unmet need that considers median rent or home prices and, in communities with high rates of income growth, sets a high rate of new housing production for all income levels to ensure equity and stabilize home prices. SB 828 would also prohibit a Council of Government (COG) from underestimating allocations for local jurisdictions based on predicted additional unmet need allocations. This bill would require the final regional housing need plan to reflect equitable allocations for housing of all income levels, and not demonstrate disparities that promote racial or wealth disparities throughout a region.
SB 1771 Planning and Zoning: Regional Housing Needs Assessment, authored by Sen. Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), would require jurisdictions to adopt long-term plans that address the development of land not only inside their jurisdiction, but in some cases, outside local boundaries as well. As is currently the law, COGs would be required to create and adopt a “Final Regional Housing Needs Allocation Plan,” but which would now be required to allocate housing needs according to certain specified objectives, including doing so in an equitable manner by dispersing housing typologies, affordability levels, and housing tenure (whether owner or rental) across the region. It would also revise many of the current requirements of the RHNA plan. Plans would be required to further objectives, rather than simply be consistent with them as is currently required. COGs would be required to include data showing both the number of low-wage jobs within a jurisdiction as well as the number of housing units which are affordable to those workers. In addition, COGs will be required to project the number of low wage workers and the number of housing units needed to house them during the planning period. This would be a new focus on existing and projected demand, replacing the previous requirement to respond to housing demand. It would also limit the grounds upon which a jurisdiction could appeal to the COG to these three: the methodology was not informed by survey information submitted by the jurisdiction; the jurisdiction has undergone significant and unforeseen changes; and, the methodology used to calculate the RHNA was in violation of state law.
AB 3194 Housing Accountability Act: Project Approval, authored by Assemblymember Tom Daly (D-Santa Ana), would prohibit a jurisdiction from disapproving, or placing infeasible conditions upon, a development of very low-income, low-income, or moderate-income housing (including emergency shelters), unless a preponderance of the evidence shows that the development would have a “specific, adverse impact upon the public health or safety.” The State of California defines “preponderance of the evidence” as evidence that outweighs, not in its quantity but rather in its effect, the evidence of the other side. In 2017, AB 1515 (Daly) added the requirement for “substantial evidence,” which is defined as “being of ponderable legal significance,” and “which is reasonable in nature, credible, and of solid value.” The proposed requirement for a preponderance of the evidence is a higher standard and could result in a higher number of housing developments being covered by the Housing Accountability Act (HAA). If approved, this bill would impart the protections of the HAA to projects that are both inconsistent with zoning and consistent with the objective general plan standards. Such projects would be deemed approved without having been rezoned.
Overriding Local Zoning Requirements
AB 2923 San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District: Transit-Oriented Development, introduced by Assemblymembers David Chiu (D-San Francisco) and Timothy Grayson (D-Concord) and coauthored by Kevin Mullin (D-San Mateo), Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), and Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), would require the board of the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) to adopt new TOD guidelines for certain BART-owned land. The new guidelines would establish minimum zoning requirements for land within 1/2 mile of a current or future BART entrance, on contiguous parcels that are at least .25 acres in size. The bill would also require the board to adopt streamlining measures for TOD projects, and require that projects within these areas include 20 percent affordable housing. The effect of this bill, if approved, could be that jurisdictions where BART stations are located would have little control over what is built in their communities.
SB 827 Planning and Zoning: Transit-Rich Housing Bonus, authored by Sen. Wiener (D-San Francisco), the bill would have promoted multi-family housing near transit. Among other things, SB 827 would have allowed developers to circumvent zoning in transit areas, and build to height, parking, and density levels that exceed zoning limits. The proposed height limit would have been five stories in areas within a half mile of a transit or subway station, and developers would also have benefited from reduced parking and density restrictions. Advocates of the bill purported it to be a nail in the coffin of residential racial segregation, forcing housing into neighborhoods that were historically zoned low-density in order to perpetuate the segregation of race and class. The bill failed to pass in the Committee on Transportation and Housing.
Accessory Dwelling Unit Requirements
AB 2890, authored by Sen. Ting (D-San Francisco), would require local jurisdictions to consider permit applications for ADUs within 60 days of receipt. Current law allows jurisdictions up to 120 days to consider such permits. It would also require that jurisdictions that condition permits on owner-occupancy to not monitor those units more than once per year. This bill would expand the law to allow for ministerial approval of ADUs on both single-family and multifamily lots, and prohibit certain requirements such as lot coverage standards, minimum lot size, and floor area ratio. If passed, HCD would be required to proposed small building standards by 2020, which would provide further oversight into local ordinances. If an ordinance is found to be in violation of the law, HCD could additionally notify the Attorney General.
SB 831 Land Use: Accessory Dwelling Units, introduced by Sen. Wieckowski (D-Fremont) and coauthored by Sen. Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), and Sen. Wiener (D-San Francisco), would require jurisdictions to designate, in their ADU ordinances, any areas where ADUs would be excluded because of certain health and safety concerns. It would delete the authority to include lot coverage standards. It would also prohibit jurisdictions from taking the square footage of the proposed ADU into account when determining the allowable FAR or lot coverage. In addition, a permit for the development of an ADU would be automatically approved if not considered within 60 days of its submittal. It would prohibit requirements to replace off-street parking that is lost due to the development of an ADU. It would also prohibit the use of any other local policy, ordinance, or regulation as a means to inhibit the development of ADUs. This bill would not only prohibit local ordinances from owner-occupancy conditions, but also make void any such existing requirements. It would also prohibit a jurisdiction from considering an ADU as a “new residential use,” for purposes of determining fees. School fees would be an exception; however, they would be limited to $3,000.
Artemis Spyridonidis, Senior Associate, covers housing policy issues, including structural solutions to the housing affordability crisis, consolidated plans, housing elements, accessory dwelling unit policy implementation, and regional issues across the state of California. For information about linkage fees and other housing policy issues, contact Artemis Spyridonidis, at email@example.com.
 Glage v. Hawes Firearms Co. (1990), 226 Cal.App.3d 314, 325, quoting People v. Miller (1916), 171 Cal. 6149, 652.