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CA lawmakers seek to streamline affordable housing approval

California State Senate video archive
California Senator Jim Beall argues in favor of SB 35 in a June 1, 2017 Senate session.

California lawmakers are weighing several ideas to encourage – or force – cities and counties to speed up the approval process for housing projects. The proposals are part of negotiations between Governor Jerry Brown and Democratic legislative leaders to address California’s high housing costs.

The most controversial bill would force cities and counties that fail to meet state-mandated housing production goals to approve multi-family development projects that meet certain requirements, like paying construction workers a prevailing wage. It would apply to every form of multi-unit housing – from market rate to very low-income.

Democratic Senator Scott Weiner is the bill’s author.

“We need local control in terms of deciding where communities put the housing, how they’re designed. We want communities to be able to figure out what works for them," Weiner said. "But local control is about how a community meets its housing goals – not whether it meets its housing goals.” 

But the League of California Cities opposes the bill, which it argues would apply to nearly every local government – because those housing goals are so hard to reach.

“Even those cities that are the most progressive and most pro-housing are going to fall under this mandatory streamlining, via no fault of their own," the League's Jason Rhine said. "They’ve done everything in their power to streamline at the local level – their door is wide open for development – but a lack of resources for affordable housing is going to force them into having to comply with SB 35.”

The League of Cities prefers another bill that would allow local governments to create priority housing zones with front-loaded planning and environmental reviews, in which qualifying development projects would be guaranteed expedited approval.

In the end, it’s quite possible that both measures will pass the Legislature as part of the overall housing deal. Lawmakers could vote on the bills when they return from summer recess later this month.

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