Proposed California Budget Would Create Housing Accountability Unit and Add New Targeted CEQA Exemptions Focused on Housing

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Miller Starr Regalia

On January 8, 2021 California Governor Gavin Newsom proposed an expansive state budget that includes $1.75 billion to purchase additional motels, develop short-term community mental health facilities, and purchase and preserve housing dedicated to seniors, $500 million in low income housing tax credits, and $250 million for infill infrastructure intended to facilitate housing.

The budget has an express focus on maximizing housing production and explains that more must be done to hold local governments accountable for meeting their obligations under existing housing laws so that communities build housing to meet the needs of their residents.  The budget thus includes resources to create a Housing Accountability Unit at the Department of Housing and Community Development to further facilitate affordable housing production through monitoring, technical assistance, and enforcement of existing housing production laws such as the Density Bonus Law and Housing Accountability Act.  This includes $4.3 million General Fund for HCD to provide technical assistance to help local governments meet planning and zoning requirements and provide proactive engagement before enforcement becomes necessary.  These additional resources will allow HCD to act as an ombudsman and help local governments navigate and comply with state housing laws and make sufficient progress toward their Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA).

“Let me just make this clear to all my friends,” Newsom said, “this is to monitor city council meetings.  This is to monitor board of supervisors meetings, planning commission meetings.  We’re not going to wait for an article to be written to be proactive in terms of holding local government accountable to increasing housing production.”

The budget also recognizes that while many important streamlining and exemption provisions already exist in current law, incongruent definitions or processes sometimes make these benefits complicated, if not impossible, to access.  The budget thus states that continued strategic and targeted use of CEQA exemptions will be an important component of making affordable housing production more objective, aligning key definitions and administrative processes, and reducing costs and time spent in CEQA litigation.

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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