CSAC Bulletin Article

By-Right Housing Proposal Lingers as Legislature Recesses

July 7, 2016

On July 1, the Legislature left the Capitol for summer recess without taking action on the Governor’s “by-right” housing proposal. Counties will recall that the Governor proposed statutory language to streamline the approval of certain housing projects that include affordable units as part of his May budget revision. While the legislative leadership and the Governor agreed to set aside $400 million for housing priorities contingent upon agreement on the by-right proposal, the issue was not resolved along with the rest of the budget.

Among other provisions, counties will recall that the Governor’s proposal would require the approval of specified housing projects located on lands designated by local government for housing through a ministerial process. Essentially, if a housing project is consistent with the underlying zoning and other “objective standards” and includes specified percentages of affordable units, then the project would not require a discretionary permit. Such approvals are typically not subject to review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), nor do they require public hearings before the Board of Supervisors.

CSAC recognizes that the by-right proposal is intended to build off of the existing land use plans and regulations adopted through public processes by county governments. Unfortunately, many land use plans and zoning ordinances are in need of updates and there are several important technical issues remaining with the bill. Accordingly, CSAC has stressed to the Administration the need to develop a proposal that can be feasibly implemented, as well as the need for funding to update land use plans and provide technical assistance and guidance about the by-right process to counties.

Housing has risen in prominence as a political issue in 2016, and $400 million for affordable housing may be a strong incentive for the Legislature to seriously consider the Governor’s proposal. On the other hand, many interest groups have already come out in strong opposition to the proposal. Environmental and labor groups are concerned that by-right housing could be seen as an end-run around CEQA, while others have decried a loss of local government control and transparency. Affordable housing advocates have complained that the proposal’s mandated percentage of affordable units isn’t stringent enough, nor is $400 million a strong enough carrot to encourage action.

The politics of the by-right proposal are complex, but conversations are expected to continue over the summer recess with potential action during the last month of session.  CSAC has formed a small technical advisory group to ensure that any final proposal can be feasibly implemented, and we will continue to advocate for funding and technical assistance so that counties can prepare for implementation. 

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