A Legislative Challenge to Ballot-Box Planning in California

On March 7, Angelenos will vote on Measure S, which would enact a two-year moratorium on denser development. State legislation introduced on Feb. 16 would require a two-thirds vote for these types of slow growth ballot measures.
February 21, 2017, 9am PST | Irvin Dawid
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Smart growth advocates are advancing a tactic successfully used by anti-tax advocates who spearheaded Proposition 13 in 1978 which requires that local tax measures for specific purposes receive a supermajority to pass. The March 7 Measure S in the city of Los Angeles, aka the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, was the inspiration for the legislation.

"Assembly Bill 943 [Land use regulations: local initiatives: voter approval] from Democratic Assemblyman Miguel Santiago increases the threshold from a simple majority to a two-thirds supermajority for passage of any local ballot measure that would block or delay development," reports Liam Dillon, who covers California state politics and policy for the Los Angeles Times.

If it passes, AB 943 wouldn’t take effect until next year and would not impact the results of the vote on Measure S. Still, Santiago said that ballot initiative, as well as the continued worsening of California’s housing affordability problems, spurred him to write the bill.

Proponents and Opponents

"The measure is sponsored by the California Apartment Association and supported by a broad coalition including the California Building Industry Association, the California Council on Affordable Housing, the California Building and Construction Trades Council, the Central City Association, the Downtown Women’s Center, the Valley Industry & Commerce Association and others," according to Santiago's press release.

"Dan Carrigg, legislative director for the League of California Cities, said AB 943 would take too much power away from voters over how their communities look and grow, and would instead favor development interests," reports Dillon. The league's official position on the bill at this time is "watch."

Should the bill become law, Carrigg suggests voters will have the last word by turning it into a referendum.

“Some voters may view this as something where the development community may be dictating what’s going on in their communities more than their own city council,” Carrigg said.

In addition, Carrigg suggests that the bill is written so broadly as to include other type of land regulations that would give legislators' pause to support it, and/or make it easier to challenge in a state-wide referendum.

Efforts to ban big-box retailers, force developers to set aside portions of their projects for low-income residents or implement rent control could all require a two-thirds vote under Santiago’s bill on the grounds they restrain development, he said.

Santiago dismisses those charges, stating that the bill targets "slow-growth measures that give too much power to opponents of development — often branded NIMBYs, for 'not in my backyard' — at the expense of those who need less costly housing," writes Dillon.

“I fully support local democracy,” Santiago said. “But NIMBYism on steroids is not something I will support when we’re trying to build affordable housing in California.”

Dillon provides data on the pervasiveness of growth-limiting measures adopted by California's coastal communities which are suffering the brunt of the state's housing shortage, and how they affect affordability by restricting residential development.

Keeping the 'micro' in micro-apartments

Santiago has written another bill to increase housing on the 'micro' level. AB 352: State Housing Law: efficiency units, also supported by the California Apartment Association, "would keep cities and counties from imposing unreasonable size and density limits on efficiency units, also known as micro apartments," writes Mike Nemeth for the Association.

Because of their small size, efficiency units are affordable by design and can help close California’s housing shortage. The efficiency units are often modular, built off-site and then brought to the property, where they are stacked on top of each other, making for a quick and cost-effective addition of housing.

Specifically, AB 352 would "would prohibit a city, county, or city and county from establishing a higher square footage requirement for efficiency units than the requirement in the International Building Code and from limiting the number of efficiency units below an unspecified number in certain locations near public transit or university campuses, as specified," according to the text as introduced on Feb. 8.

A 2015 Curbed New York article indicates that the IBC square footage requirement is to "require at least 220 square feet for an efficiency unit with two occupants and an additional 100 square feet for each additional occupant."

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Published on Thursday, February 16, 2017 in Los Angeles Times
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