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Senate Bill 330: Yet Another Costly Statewide Upzoning Bill

ACTION ALERT--SB 330 is set for a public hearing at 9 AM, Wednesday, August 28, 2019, before the State Assembly Appropriations Committee. 

My recommendation is to OPPOSE this legislation at the Assembly Appropriations Committee, with your State Assembly and Senate representatives, and with the Governor's office. 

Removal of Local Demolition Control Protection:

The most recent AB 330 amendment removed the recognition of local demolition controls.  Specifically, Section 66300(d)(1)(B) was eliminated.  It would have stipulated that demolitions prohibited by local ordinances need not be approved.  Currently, local government can and do prohibit demolitions for a variety of reasons: 

  • Preserving existing rent controlled or low income housing stock. 
  • Historical preservation controls. 
  • General "time, place and manner" restrictions on demolitions that could release toxins or particulate matter into a local community. 

The current version of SB 330 requires cities and counties to approve the demolition of rent-controlled, rent-stabilized, and affordable housing, as long as the units are replaced on a one-for-one basis.  Mere replacement of course does not create a single additional unit of new affordable housing and in the meantime, the existing tenants are displaced in the name of a build faster and more intensively wrecking ball.

There are many reasons why this approach does not work:
 

  • The rent-controlled units can be replaced by "affordable" housing, which are often more expensive because average median income criteria result in higher rents and sales price. 
  • There is no requirement that the replacement units be comparable in size or amenities to those that developers demolish. 
  • SB 330's "savings clause" states that cities can require that the replacement units be under rent control rather than affordable housing. This is limited because the statewide Costa Hawkins law prohibits rent control on new construction and nothing in SB 330 amends Costa Hawkins. 
  • Shortening the time for demolition approvals, while also lengthening the time that permits must remain valid to 2.5 years, increases costs and inefficiencies for all cities and counties. Creating the written detailed lists SB 330 says cities (but not of developers) must provide will require additional training, and it often not practical within a short time frame.  Developers can sit back and submit amendments periodically -- including the day before Thanksgiving) -- individually or on a coordinated basis.  Municipal staff must then respond within 30 days, regardless of the volume or date of the applications. This burden increases city expenses exponentially, especially during the holidays and summer, when local offices are usually short-staffed. 
  • No SB 330 provision creates or incentivizes any affordable housing. 
  • The definition of "Housing Development Project" requires expedited approvals, even for mixed use projects and shelters that have up to 1/3rd nonresidential use eliminating all subjective or discretionary procedures (can only enforce "objective" height, FAR, etc) without incorporating design review standards, conditional use permits, or historical certificates of compatibility or appropriateness. This is a fundamental and fatal flaw and goes well beyond reasonable processes with NO corresponding public benefit since there is no requirement for affordability. 
  • SB 330 holds all permits open for 2.5 years, permitting demolition, construction delays, and blight.  

SB 330 retroactively invalidates and prospectively prohibits all ordinances, development standards, plans, conditions and local laws, and other land use actions, including those resulting from ballot Initiatives, that: 

  • Result in a "less intensive" use of land from the uses permitted as of January 1, 2018.  “Less intensive use” includes, but is not limited to, reductions to height, density, or floor area ratio, new or increased open space or lot size requirements, or new or increased setback requirements, minimum frontage requirements, or maximum lot coverage limitations, or anything that would lessen the intensity of housing;" or 
  • Limit or cap approvals, permits, or population growth in an area; or 
  • Limit or cap or restrict housing development or mixed use development "other than to specifically protect against an imminent threat to the health and safety of persons residing in, or within the immediate vicinity of, the area subject to the moratorium or for projects specifically identified as existing restricted affordable housing.”

These provisions freeze our local planning processes, unconstitutionally restrict our electorate and local governments, and do NOTHING to promote affordability in housing or shelters for the homeless.  They are punitive provisions that impose one-sided timing pressures on municipalities and force additional density without regard to good planning, city services, or infrastructure.

SB 330 was amended several times.  The changes in August 2019 added the following provisions:
   
1.   Changed definitions of affected cities and affected counties.  These now include all cities and county areas within urbanized areas, as designated by the Bureau of the Census, without regard to average rent and vacancy rates. 

2.   Section 66300 no longer prohibits demolitions by incorporating local demolition controls.  The deleted language used to read: 

"(B) The affected city or affected county is not prohibited from approving the demolition of the residential dwelling units pursuant to any local ordinance or other law."  And:
 

"(2) An affected city or an affected county shall not approve a housing development project that will require the demolition of occupied or vacant protected units, unless all of the following apply:


(E) The affected city or affected county is not prohibited from approving the demolition of the residential dwelling units pursuant to any local ordinance or other law."

3.  The incentive to build 100% low-income affordable units was removed from Section 66300(d)(2)(B). There will no longer be one-for-one replacement in 100% low-income affordable projects.
 
4.    Exemptions have been added for certified local coastal programs (Section 66300(h)(2)) and for mobile home parks (Section 66300(i)(2)).  

5.    Modified to permit design standards enacted before January 1, 2020 as opposed to invalidating back to 2018. 

The last two changes are to the good but appear designed to pacify narrow, wealthy donors and constituents.  The elimination of local demolition control protection is intolerable and the rest of SB 330 remains a pell-mell race to nowhere.  

As the entitled but not yet built projects in our city show, the issue with new construction is NOT the zoning or the permitting or any other process in the control of the city.  The issue is the cost, the financing and the personnel to build approved projects.  Instead of putting more heat on municipalities or giving for profit developments longer periods of time to finalize a permit, our legislators should be requiring the commencement of construction in accordance with entitlements within a compressed timeframe or imposing an escalating charge for land that blights our neighborhoods after demolition with entitlements obtained but not under construction.   

 

(Hydee Feldstein is a retired attorney who lives in Los Angeles and is active on land use issues in her neighborhood council. Please send any comments to [email protected]. Dick Platkin assisted in the editing of this article.)

-cw