One of the bills signed by Governor Jerry Brown Friday as part of a larger housing package could fast-track certain affordable housing projects in Los Angeles, potentially bypassing a process that has allowed community groups to stonewall such projects in their neighborhoods.
The legislation, SB 35, could allow multi-family, affordable housing projects to be built in Los Angeles without the usual public input process, and instead allow those units to be approved through an administrative process, known as “by-right.”
A by-right process kicks in when a project already adheres to existing development rules, such as height- or floor-area limits. But in Los Angeles, projects with more than 50 units that would normally be approved under such a process must still get go through a discretionary process that includes planning commission and City Council approval.
— Gov. Brown Press Ofc (@GovPressOffice) September 29, 2017
The bill would force cities like Los Angeles that cannot meet state-mandated affordable housing goals to build multi-unit projects, with more than 50 percent affordable units, under the “streamlined,” by-right process.
Entirely affordable projects will likely be the most affected by this bill, planners say. Many of the projects in which market-rate developers agree to include affordable housing tend to have a small percentage of such units that falls below the 50 percent threshold. Only the developers that are building projects with the intention of making them entirely affordable would benefit from the streamlined process called from under SB 35.
Los Angeles, like many others cities, has failed to meet its affordable housing goals, which is to have more than 4,100 units permitted annually by the state. The city usually produces less than 2,000 affordable units each year, and even fewer have been created after the dissolution of the community redevelopment agency, which routed tax revenue toward affordable housing. Some experts say that in places like Los Angeles where land costs are high, it can be difficult to build affordable housing, including those for the homeless, such as permanent supportive housing.
SB 35 is just one of 15 bills in a housing package aimed at tackling the state’s housing crisis, which has driven up housing costs in major cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, that was signed by the governor.
This bill, and others that regulate the approval of affordable housing, have been viewed by some in Los Angeles as an attack on the democratic process. And Los Angeles city legislative analysts were wary of SB 35, which would take away the city’s “local control” of some development, echoing concerns also raised by the League of California Cities.
But for others, the bill is a step in the right direction toward chipping away at the power of groups with a “Not In My Backyard,” or NIMBY, mentality.
“SB 35 is a great bill,” said Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, a chamber representing San Fernando Valley businesses, including developers.
“We have NIMBYs who don’t want anything built, anywhere, any time,” he said. “We have members (of the chamber) who go to neighborhood councils, and they have never seen neighborhood council members support a project no matter how small or large, whether it’s senior housing, affordable housing or luxury housing.”
The existing project approval rules, Waldman said, “allow for opponents of housing to drag out the (projects) through environmental reviews, public hearings, negotiations, and other ways that they can come up with to stop projects from being built.”
Such tactics, he said, often “increase the cost for developers and make the projects undoable.”
— Eric Garcetti (@ericgarcetti) September 29, 2017
In addition to SB 35, and others that might make it harder for some affordable housing projects to be denied if they meet existing planning rules, the housing package inked into law Friday also includes bills that raise funds to encourage the construction of affordable housing.
But the package only goes so far, and more work lies ahead to get more affordable housing built, according to Mayor Eric Garcetti, who traveled to San Francisco to be part of the bill signing ceremony.
Garcetti called on state lawmakers to pick up the issue again in the next legislative session, including boosting the amount of affordable housing funding, and easing the state’s environmental review rules, which some say have been abused by groups that oppose projects.
“Let’s look at what we can do to bring tax-increment financing back; let’s look at what we can do for renter-protections and empowering local governments to protect renter stabilization,” he said.
He added that lawmakers should also “look at CEQA abuse reform to make sure that projects get done quickly,” referring to state regulation under the California Environmental Quality Act that requires a review process and mitigation of the environmental impact of projects.
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