California Senate Returns Its Focus to Housing in 2021-2022 Legislative Session

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The new 2021-2022 California legislative session has kicked off with the Senate’s “Building Opportunities for All” housing package, its latest effort to tackle zoning and California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) reforms in an effort to address California’s ongoing housing crisis.  “Each one of these bills is targeted at an element of the housing crisis, and together, they give us a unified approach that would create pathways to home ownership, stable housing for vulnerable families, and a pathway to economic stability for Californians across the golden state,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins when announcing the housing package. As anticipated in our summary of new legislation effective in 2021, this housing package builds upon the housing production bills from the previous legislative session that failed to pass out of committee or gain concurrence votes before the session ended.  Given that many of the bills replicate language from the failed 2020 housing legislation, the senators appear confident that more of these bills will be approved in this new session.

The Building Opportunities for All housing package includes the following Senate Bills (“SB”):

  • SB 5 (Atkins, Caballero, McGuire, Rubio, Skinner and Wiener) establishes the broad, initial framework for a statewide housing bond that would fund the creation of new affordable housing for homeless and low-income families. Further details will be crafted as the legislative session progresses.
  • SB 6 (Caballero, Eggman and Rubio) allows specified housing development projects in office or retail commercial zones. In authorizing the conversion of underutilized strip malls or “big box” stores to residential spaces, SB 6 requires the residential units be built at a minimum density to accommodate affordable housing.  This is similar to last session’s SB 1385, which was also introduced by Senator Anna Caballero.
  • SB 8 (Skinner) is a placeholder for a density bonus bill.
  • SB 7 (Atkins) renews the effort to extend the streamlined CEQA judicial review process developed for Environmental Leadership Development Projects under the 2011 Jobs and Economic Improvement Through Environmental Leadership Act (AB 900). SB 7 would extend the 2021 “sunset” of AB 900 through 2024.  Pro Tem Toni Atkins also introduced last session’s version of this bill, SB 995.
  • SB 9 (Atkins, Caballero, Rubio and Wiener) allows duplexes and lot-splits in single-family residential zones by-right, if the proposed development meets certain requirements. This is a reintroduction of last session’s SB 1120.  It retains the arbitrary and impractical requirement that, for a subdivision map to qualify for ministerial approval, the two new parcels that replace the existing single parcel must be of equal size.
  • SB 10 (Wiener) grants local governments the ability to rezone parcels close to job centers, transit and existing urbanized areas to allow up to 10 residential units without undergoing CEQA review. Last year’s version of this bill was SB 902, also introduced by Senator Scott Wiener.

In addition to the Building Opportunities for All housing package, Senator Anthony Portantino introduced SB 15 to establish a grant program to incentivize local governments to rezone idle retail sites for the development of workforce housing.

Most recently, Senator Nancy Skinner also introduced SB 290, which revises the Density Bonus Law to create more low-income student housing and for-sale housing for moderate-income residents.  The bill includes identical language from SB 1085, which failed in 2020 when the Legislature ran out of time for a concurrence vote.

In light of recent devastating fires in California, the Senate is also turning its attention to ways to minimize wildfire risks to housing:

  • SB 12 (McGuire) establishes new requirements for addressing wildfire risks in general plan safety, housing, and land use elements. Of note, the bill directs the Department of Housing and Community Development to take into consideration how much land within a jurisdiction is considered a “very high fire risk area” when determining the Regional Housing Needs Assessment allocation.  SB 12 also requires land use elements to identify very high fire risk areas and prohibits local governments from entering into development agreements, approving specified discretionary permits, or approving subdivision maps for projects within a very high fire risk area, unless specified findings based on substantial evidence in the record are made.
  • SB 55 (Stern and Allen) prohibits new development in very high fire severity zones or state responsibility areas.

All bills are currently in committee, and we will continue to track their progress throughout the legislative session.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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