A handful of important state laws related to housing have been passed by the California legislature, including the Housing Crisis Act of 2019 (SB 330), which provides a set of limited reforms to the Housing Accountability Act (HAA), Planning and Zoning Law, and Permit Streamlining Act. These new laws, most of which would take effect in January 2020 if signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom, are of interest to project proponents and local agencies:
As usual, most of the major housing bills ether will (or will not) be passed at or near the deadline for the legislature to act on by Sept. 13, 2019. Gov. Newsom must sign or veto the approved bills by Oct. 13, 2019, with some exceptions. Holland & Knight is monitoring this activity and will report on additional laws passed by the legislature once the legislative session concludes.
SB 330, passed by the legislature and awaiting the governor's signature, tightens the protections for development projects under the HAA by limiting a jurisdiction's ability to change development standards and zoning applicable to the project once a preliminary application is submitted. Prior law held that standards in place at the time an application was complete were applicable and thus jurisdictions could change applicable standards during the application process in order to preclude it from qualifying for HAA protection. The bill also prevents jurisdictions from increasing exactions or fees during a project's application period, but allows such increases if the resolution or ordinance establishing the fee calls for automatic increases in the fee over time. If the development project does not start construction within 2 ½ years of final approval or the project is modified to include 20 percent or more residential units or square footage, then a jurisdiction can subject a project to new standards.
The bill also modifies the Planning and Zoning Law to prohibit cities or counties from conducting more than five hearings if a proposed housing development complies with the applicable, objective general plan and zoning standards in effect at the time an application is deemed complete. This prevents jurisdictions from undertaking a protracted approval process in which projects can stall because of financing or other issues. The bill also requires jurisdictions to make a determination on the historic nature of a planned housing development site at the time the application is deemed complete. This determination remains valid for the pendency of the development process.
The bill also amends the Permit Streamlining Act to specify what constitutes a "preliminary application" and states that a jurisdiction has one chance to identify incomplete items in an initial application and after that may not request the submission of any new information that was not in the initial list of missing items. The bill also reduces the time in which a lead agency is required to approve or disapprove certain housing projects.
Finally, the bill prohibits a jurisdiction (with some exceptions) from enacting development policies, standards or conditions that would change current zoning and general plan designations of land where housing is an allowable use to "lessen the intensity of housing," such as reducing height, density or floor area ratio, requiring new or increased open space, lot size, setbacks or frontage, or limiting maximum lot coverage. It also bans jurisdictions from placing a moratorium or similar restrictions on housing development, from imposing subjective design standards established after Jan. 1, 2020, and limiting or capping the number of land use approvals or permits that will be issued in the jurisdiction, unless the jurisdiction is predominately agricultural.
In this year's package of housing laws, the legislature has continued emphasizing (as seen in AB 101 and AB 430) that it believes that the best way to ensure housing is built is to reform and streamline the local review process and move toward a "by right" model for housing that complies with local zoning and planning rules. However, the legislature continues to apply this principle on a very limited scale rather than to advance the construction of the 3.5 million homes that Gov. Newsom has said must be built by 2025 to stem the statewide housing crisis.
Information contained in this alert is for the general education and knowledge of our readers. It is not designed to be, and should not be used as, the sole source of information when analyzing and resolving a legal problem. Moreover, the laws of each jurisdiction are different and are constantly changing. If you have specific questions regarding a particular fact situation, we urge you to consult competent legal counsel.
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