California Cities That Plan Housing Might Now Have to Build it

If Gov. Gavin Newsom signs the Housing Crisis Act of 2019 as expected, downzonings, density reductions, housing construction moratoriums, and housing caps will become illegal.

3 minute read

September 11, 2019, 12:00 PM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

Oakland California Road

UncleVinny / Wikimedia Commons

"Senate Bill 330, which received scant news coverage, would ban population and housing caps in 'urban clusters,' ban housing construction moratoriums, forbid density reductions and allow demolition of affordable and rent-controlled housing only if the demolished units are replaced," reports Jeff Collins for The Orange County Register.

The bill won final passage Friday, Sept. 6, with business backing but over the objections of the League of California Cities and 56 cities and counties. Newsom has indicated he would sign the measure.

The margins in both chambers were overwhelming considering the depth of opposition from cities, counties, and local groups, rather reminiscent of the successful battles these entities waged against the high profile 'by-right' housing bills, SB 827 and SB 50, authored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) last year and this year, respectively. The Senate voted 30-4-6 and the Assembly, 67-8-4, or by 75% and 84%, respectively. Collins notes that none of the bill's numerous opponents spoke at the last hearing on Sept. 6.

It also blocks local governments from changing the rules on pending developments by hiking fees or changing permit requirements once a project applicant has submitted preliminary development plans, a statement by state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, said.

Two of the League's three objections [pdf] concerned the fee restrictions included in the bill: freezing certain fees and prohibiting the imposition of most types of additional fees. These provisions end when the bill sunsets on January 1, 2025.

In addition to business groups, the bill had the support of numerous nonprofit housing groups and developers and two prominent environment organizations, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Planning and Conservation League.

Housing planned ≠ housing built

According to Skinner's office, "SB 330 is based on the premise that much of the housing we need has already been planned for by local communities. According to a 2019 report by UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies ["A Flawed Law: Reforming California’s Housing Element"], California cities and counties have approved zoning for 2.8 million new housing units."

But that housing is not getting built. In fact, the number of residential building permits in the first six months of this year plummeted nearly 20% compared with the same period in 2018.

According to the 09/05/19- Senate Floor Analyses, "SB 330 is a targeted approach that prohibits the most egregious practices in the areas where housing is most needed. It prevents local governments from downzoning unless they upzone elsewhere, and it stops them from changing the rules on builders who are in the midst of going through the approval process."

Skinner is also the author of the Senate Bill 167: Housing Accountability Act of 2017, aka anti-NIMBY law as it empowers renters group to sue cities that deny new construction.

Hat tip to Matthew Lewis.

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