Gov. Gray Davis completed the legislative year by signing every high-profile planning bill that hit his desk.
Davis signed a bill that severely curtails the use of lot line adjustments and certificates of compliance in creating subdivisions. He approved a three-package bill that forces a closer link between planning and water availability. The governor also signed a $2.6 billion park bond initiative that will appear on the March ballot, and a measure that allows redevelopment agencies to extend their life spans by 10 years. Unlike previous years, Davis vetoed few land use measures.
"I think he was much more aware of planning issues this year," said Sande George, lobbyist for the California Chapter of the American Planning Association.
While Davis' signature on the water and planning bills was not entirely unexpected, many people viewed the governor's decision on the lot line adjustment crackdown as a big test. That bill, SB 497 (Sher), severely restricts landowners' practice of seeking certificates of compliance to legitimize antiquated subdivisions, and then using lot line adjustments to reconfigure the old lots into more usable — and more valuable — parcels. The measure limits lot line adjustments to only four parcels, and requires that lot line adjustments be compatible with general plans and local coastal plans. The measure was lawmakers' direct response to the Hearst Corporation's stated plan to rely on an 1852 map to carve 279 parcels out of its 83,000-acre ranch in San Luis Obispo County, where the Coastal Commission has blocked Hearst plans for a resort.
Davis signed the bill but, interestingly, issued no statement regarding his decision. Most of the state's powerful development, real estate and forestry interests lobbied hard for a veto. How the bill will actually affect the Hearst Ranch is uncertain, as San Luis Obispo County has already issued Hearst nearly all of the certificates of compliance that the company sought.
Richard Lyon, lobbyist for the California Building Industry Association, complained that the issues with Hearst Ranch related to antiquated subdivisions and certificates of compliance, not really with lot line adjustments. Yet the most significant parts of SB 497 are the lot line provisions. The requirement that lot line adjustments be compatible with general plans and local coastal plans brings discretion into what had been a ministerial act, he complained. This means that California Environmental Quality Act review also will be required of lot line adjustments, he said.
"What we've done is take a simple process and make it much more expensive and time-consuming," Lyon said. "Of course, now that it's discretionary, local governments can pick and choose, and play favorites. … What public purpose is served by this new and time-consuming process?"
The new process will be a large obstacle for developers who need to make the numerous — but minor — lot line adjustments that become necessary after site work begins, Lyon said.
The water bills were also heavily lobbied on both sides. In a signing message, the governor said SB 221 (Kuehl) and SB 610 (Costa) "provide an important and necessary foundation for developing comprehensive state water policies to prepare California to meet our future water needs."
The Kuehl bill applies to projects of at least 500 homes. The measure requires a water provider or local government to make a finding, based on substantial evidence, that adequate water is available without putting the existing community at risk. While SB 221 hits development at the end of the planning process, the Costa bill focuses on the early stages by forcing water agencies to take a substantial role in the preparation of municipal water plans. The governor also signed SB 672 (Machado), which integrates regional and state needs and encourages the use of new technologies.
Davis used his signing message for the water bills to "re-emphasize the need to aggressively pursue infrastructure projects throughout California." Among the projects he identified were increased water storage, including raising the height of Shasta Dam, more conjunctive use of surface water and groundwater, and implementation of the Cal-Fed Bay Delta project.
As implied by the formal name of SB 1602 (the Clean Water, Clean Air, Safe Neighborhood Parks and Coastal Protection Bond Act), a wide variety of land purchases and restoration activities would qualify for some of the $2.6 billion bond if voters approve the ballot measure next March. In his signing message, Davis said he supported investing in parks and natural resources, but noted that the state's economy — and, therefore, state revenues — are rapidly declining. If voters approve the park bond, Davis promised to disburse the money slowly "to balance the cost of debt service with other high priority demands on the general fund."
Hundreds of cities closely watched the redevelopment bill, SB 211 (Torlakson). It allows a 10-year extension of any pre-1994 redevelopment project area if the jurisdiction has a state-approved housing element and it makes a finding that significant blight remains. The 10-year extension comes with a number of conditions, including a requirement that agencies spend at least 30% of the additional tax increment on low- and very low-income housing, as compared with the usual requirement of 20% for low- and moderate-income housing.
The California Redevelopment Association, which sponsored SB 211, had to make a number of concessions to get it through the Legislature, said CRA Executive Director William Carlson. "The Legislature, even though it is heavily Democratic, is very skeptical about redevelopment. So we had a tough time," he said.
Carlson estimated that about 40% of eligible agencies would qualify for an extension, depending on whether they can make the required blight finding. Had Davis vetoed the bill, many of redevelopment agencies facing a 2004 deadline for issuing debt would have sought individual extensions next year, Carlson said. The Torlakson bill provides needed uniformity, he said.
Davis's signing of SB 211 came over the objection of his Department of Finance, which worried about school district revenue losses that the state must backfill. However, the Department of Housing and Community Development urged approval because officials estimated the measure could provide up to $1 billion for affordable housing.