Business owners, labor leaders and housing advocates have formed an alliance to promote a package of nine bills intended to ease the approval process for new homes near job sites. The bills would, variously, modify the California Environmental Quality Act, provide financial incentives to local governments, address liability hurdles to construction of condominiums, and even allow additional analysis of growth-control initiatives. The coalition has formed because of the affordable housing shortage in the Bay Area and other portions of the state. However, environmental groups argue that development interests are only using the housing crunch as an excuse to target regulations that have long been unpopular with builders. The package of housing bills is only a portion of the land-use legislation proposed at the Capitol. While few people expect lawmakers to pass dramatic reforms, incremental changes to housing, redevelopment, planning and environmental laws are likely. Significant bills include measures that would alter CEQA requirements, tie water availability to land-use planning, and allow development on wetlands. The collection of housing bills has the support of the strange bedfellows alliance that includes the California Building Industry Association, the California Chamber of Commerce, Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Fannie Mae, and the California/Nevada Council of Operating Engineers. "The lack of affordable housing is causing problems in the job market," Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Kathy Fairbanks said. "We've heard from companies, particularly in the Bay Area, who are having trouble finding employees because of housing costs." But Sandra Spelliscy, Planning and Conservation League general counsel, said builders are looking for excuses to decrease needed regulations. "Our message is that CEQA is not the problem causing the jobs-housing imbalance in this state. We're going to be very hard line on that issue," Spelliscy said. The package contains: o AB 2340 (Ducheny) and AB 2343 (Ducheny), which would modify CEQA to encourage infill housing. AB 2340 states that environmental laws should "recognize the importance of affordable housing in protecting the natural environment." AB2343 would reduce environmental review of certain infill housing projects of up to 200 units. o AB 2048 (Torlakson), which would give more property tax revenue to local governments to encourage housing development in job-rich areas, and employment in housing-rich locales. o SB 1789 (Rainey), which would require the Department of Toxic Substances Control to study obstacles to development of brownfields and recommend ways to maximize use of the sites. o AB 2041 (Dutra), which would encourage local agencies to spend more redevelopment dollars on very low-, low-, and moderate-income housing projects. o SB 1966 (Brulte), which would let a city or county refer an initiative petition to another local agency for a report on the initiative's impact on affordable housing. o AB 2112 (Dutra), AB 2139 (Pacheco) and AB 2632 (Calderon), all of which modify the dispute resolution system for settling construction liability disputes. Builders contend existing law discourages construction of condominiums and townhouses. o A budget augmentation by Sen. Richard Alarcon (D-Los Angeles) to expand California Housing Finance Agency homeownership programs. Caucuses, bills and budgets Approximately 150 other housing and urban growth bills have been proposed. Although February 25 was the deadline to introduce bills, many remained in spot form during March. Some analysts and even legislators indicate this will be the year a true discussion of smart growth and jobs-housing balance begins at the Capitol. However, significant legislation appears unlikely, in part because Gov. Davis has not made growth an issue, said the PCL's Spelliscy. Assembly members, led by Patricia Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa) and Fred Keeley (D-Santa Cruz), formed a Smart Growth Caucus last December. Thirteen Democratic Assembly members have participated in the informal group. The caucus has neither authored legislation nor indicated if it will respond to bills as a group. Still, said Dan Flynn, Wiggins' legislative director, "I suspect the caucus will want to have some sort of influence over the housing bonds that are proposed this year and over the budget." Gov. Davis's budget proposal does contain $86.9 million in new spending for housing. More than half of that money would provide down payment assistance for teachers. The early budget plan also contains a permanent, $15 million increase in the low-income housing tax credit, and $11 million for the new Multifamily Housing Program, which funds new and rehabilitated housing for seniors, disabled people, families moving off welfare and poor working families. And Senate Democrats have proposed that the budget contain another $250 million in housing spending. In a different critical area, the governor is scheduled to release a transportation plan in early April that could earmark at least $1 billion for projects and ask the Legislature to place a transportation bond on the November ballot. Earlier this year, though, the governor indicated he would not support a constitutional amendment, SCA 3 (Burton), to lower from two-thirds to majority the vote required to pass a local sales tax increase for transportation. Conflicting approaches to CEQA A CEQA bill that was a top priority of environmentalists remains alive from last year, SB 755 (Hayden). It would: eliminate increased revenue as the sole "overriding consideration" when unmitigated impacts are identified; require a master EIR for a series of smaller projects; ensure mitigation measures are timely implemented; and allow a city or county to reject a project if an applicant misrepresents the project. However, most of this year's CEQA bills carve out new exemptions. That is not abnormal, but, "this is probably a few more exemptions than usual," said Randy Pestor, consultant to the Senate Committee on Environmental Quality. Two bills, AB 1960 (Machado) and AB 2838 (Hertzberg), would exempt from CEQA a local agency formation commission's approval of city incorporation. The Commission on Local Governance for the 21St Century, which recently completed work, recommended the exemption. Hertberg's bill also contains other recommendations from the 21st Century Commission, including the requirement that counties adopt community growth plans. A bill by Senate President Pro Tempore John Burton, SB 1562, would limit analysis of proposed wetlands mitigation and restoration projects. The bill appears aimed at San Francisco Airport's proposed expansion into the bay. Senate Bill 1810 (Perata) would exempt vineyard planting from CEQA. Environmentalists in Napa and Sonoma counties have pushed for environmental review of new vineyards. Assembly Bill 2054 (Torlakson), which establishes a pilot program aimed at jobs-housing balance in the East Bay, would streamline CEQA "to facilitate desired development in selected areas." At least one new CEQA bill does not create an exemption. Assembly Bill 1807 (Longville) would require consultation with Caltrans during the environmental review process. {The following section was not included in the printed article} Other legislation of interest A sampling of other bills includes: o AB 1219 (Kuehl) – requires verification of water supply availability before approval of residential developments with at least 200 units. o AB 2310 (Ducheny) — allows residential and commercial development on degraded wetlands. The bill appears to allow development of the controversial Bolsa Chica project near Huntington Beach, which an appellate court largely blocked last year. o SB 510 (Alarcon) —places housing bonds totaling $980 million on ballots this fall and in 2002, 2004 and 2006. AB 398 (Migden) places a $750 million housing bond on the November ballot. o SB 89 (Escutia) — requires the California Environmental Protection Agency to implement environmental justice strategies. o SB 1277 (Hayden) — prohibits building any road through state parks. The measure blocks extension of the Foothill (241) Toll Road through San Onofre State Park in Orange County. o SB 1642 (Figueroa) — amends the housing element law. The Department of Housing and Community Development's failure to review a draft housing element or element amendment would serve as criteria for HCD funding to a city or county. o AB 2359 (Keeley) — establishes the Community Development Investment Guarantee Corporation in the State Treasurer's office to stimulate private investment in poor communities. o AB 2747 (Alquist) — requires the California Debt Limit Allocation Committee to direct more mortgage credit certificates to areas where at least 70% of families cannot afford a median-priced home. o AB 1968 (Wiggins) — authorizes cities and counties to enter into agreements to coordinate land-use planning on a regional basis. o SB 2113 (Burton) – extends the time limits on certain redevelopment projects. o AB 1544 (Calderon) — allows development of a shopping center on an unincorporated island within the City of Redlands. Gov. Davis vetoed a similar "Redlands doughnut hole" bill last year. o AB 1321 (Cardoza) — appropriates $130,000 for environmental review of the planned University of California, Merced, campus. o AB 1944 (Wayne) — makes it more difficult to remove farmland from Williamson Act protections. o AB 2364 (Keeley) — calls for a program to conserve farmland through use of mitigation and conversion fees paid when farmland is converted to nonagricultural uses. Contacts: Kathy Fairbanks, California Chamber of Commerce, (916) 930-1253. Sandra Spelliscy, Planning and Conservation League, (916) 444-8726. Randy Pestor, Senate Committee on Environmental Quality, (916) 324-0894. Dan Flynn, Office of Assemblywoman Patricia Wiggins, (916) 319-2007. Legislature website: For a list of other intersting land-use bills, please visit our website