Earlier this year, the controversial state-level housing bill SB 50, which would have allowed much denser housing in areas near major transit corridors, failed to gain enough votes to pass in the California State Senate, and was put to rest after a lengthy promotinonal effort by its chief sponsor, San Francisco Bay-Area Senator Scott Weiner.
But in the current legislative session, housing production advocates are continuing their push to pass legislation that would make it easier to build more and denser housing across the state. This time, however, instead of focusing on one big housing bill, advocates are promoting a package of five new, more individually limited, bills…collectively referred to as the Housing Production Package.
Advocacy for the new bills is being led largely by the Senate’s President Pro Temp, Sen. Toni Atkins, with a working group including Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg), Sen. Anna M. Caballero (D-Salinas), Sen. María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles), Sen. Lena A. Gonzalez (D-Long Beach), Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), Sen. Richard D. Roth (D-Riverside), and Sen. Susan Rubio (D-Baldwin Park). Sen. Wiener is also still involved.
The five bills that make up the Housing Production Package are (with both technical summaries from Atkins’ own website and more plain-spoken descriptions from the San Francisco Chronicle):
According to Atkins’ website, “This bill allows local governments to pass a zoning ordinance that is not subject to CEQA for projects that allow up to 10 units, if they are located in a transit-rich area, jobs-rich area, or an urban infill site. “
In other words, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, “The bill would allow cities to rezone residential parcels for apartment or condominium projects of up to 10 units without having to go through the formal environmental review that Wiener says can add five to 10 years to the process. Cities could adopt the change for neighborhoods near public transit and in high-income areas with access to jobs and good schools, but would not be required to.”
Atkins’ summary: “This bill would expand the application of streamlining the CEQA process to smaller housing projects that include at least 15 percent affordable housing. It also would broaden application and utilization of the Master Environmental Impact Report (MEIR) process, which allows cities to do upfront planning that streamlines housing approvals on an individual project level. The bill would extend and expand a program that has generated 10,573 housing units and created nearly 47,000 jobs since 2011.”
SF Chronicle summary: “SB 995 would let smaller mixed-use and affordable housing projects use a shorter environmental review process, which was created a decade ago to speed the approval of major developments that would not increase greenhouse gas emissions.”
Atkins: “This bill would enhance existing Density Bonus Law by increasing the number of incentives provided to developers in exchange for providing more affordable housing units.”
SF Chronicle: “…would give housing developers additional incentives, such as the ability to increase the size of a project, for including more affordable units.”
Atkins: “This bill would encourage small-scale neighborhood development by streamlining the process for a homeowner to create a duplex or subdivide an existing lot in all residential areas. Such applications would be required to meet a list of qualifications that ensure protection of local zoning and design standards, historic districts, environmental quality, and existing tenants vulnerable to displacement.”
SF Chronicle: “SB1120 aims to build up existing residential neighborhoods, which are largely zoned for single-family housing, by making it easier to split lots and convert homes into duplexes. Projects that meet local zoning and design standards, do not require demolition of occupied housing, and fall outside historic and environmentally sensitive districts would go through a streamlined approval process.”
Atkins: “This bill would unlock existing land zoned for office and retail use and allow housing to become an eligible use on those sites. It also would extend the state’s streamlined ministerial housing approval process to office and retail sites that have been vacant or underutilized for at least three years.”
SF Chronicle: “…would open properties zoned for office and commercial buildings to housing developments, particularly in areas where the land has sat empty for years.”
Of the five bills, SB 1120, which is being heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee today, is likely to be one of particular interest to our local Los Angeles single-family neighborhoods, as it would allow two units to be built on current single family lots (without a public review or hearing process)…and it would also allow qualifying single family lots to be divided into two lots, by the same administrative-only process, with up to two units allowed on each of the subdivided lots — which means new opportunities for up to four units per lot in many current single family neighborhoods.
There are a number of restrictions on the kinds of properties that would qualify for the new rules under SB 1120, however – it would not apply to properties currently designated for moderate, low or very low income tenants, those with housing currently subject to local rent control ordinances, those with housing that has been occupied by a rental tenant in the last three years, and those in national, state or locally designated historic districts — so it will be interesting to see how the bill evolves, if it does, as it makes its way through the legislative process.
For now, local housing advocates are only just beginning to analyze and speak out on the new bills (here’s one recent video we found, in which local attorney Robert Silverstein, who has fought several large development project in LA, looks at SB 1120). So we’ll definitely continue to follow the progress as things move forward.