Most ‘98 Bills Make Minor Legal Changes; Only School Bond Would Have Widespread Impact
Nineteen ninety-eight will not go down in history as a year when the California Legislature made sweeping changes in California planning and development law. Instead - like most legislative sessions since the passage of term limits in 1990 - it was a year in which legislators who sought minor changes were more likely to succeed. In general, the Legislature passed a series of small bills that made changes on the margins of planning and development law.
The big exception, of course, was SB 50, the $8 billion state school bond that will repeal the Mira school-fee doctrine if it is overturned. More typical is the passage of SB 1182, a "farmland security law" that expands Williamson Act-style protections for agricultural land, and SB 2005, which overturns an important but narrow California Supreme Court ruling on the Permit Streamlining Act.
Perhaps the sleeper of the group is ACA 10, which would make it easier for adjacent cities to share sales-tax revenue. The constitutional amendment will appear on the November ballot - and may be the first step toward ending some of the retail wars that have afflicted most of the state.
Here's a complete rundown:
School Bonds/Development Fees
SB 50 (Proposition 1A)
California voters will decide in November whether to approve some $8 billion in state school bonds - and in the process they will also decide whether to repeal existing case law covering the fees that school districts may impose on developers.
Under the proposed reforms, local school districts would have to cover half the cost of new schools, and the state would suspend the ability of cities and counties to levy school fees in excess of state-mandated limits - a power granted by a series of appellate court decisions collectively known as the Mira doctrine.
With the Mira powers gone, a statewide cap on school fees of $1.93 per square-foot for housing and 31 cents per square-foot for commercial and industrial construction would be back in force. Local school boards could impose higher fees in order to meet their 50% match requirement if one of the following conditions are met:
(1) Attempted a local school bond in the last four years that received at least 50% of the vote but short of the required two-thirds majority;
(2) Have passed bonds equal to 15% of bonding capacity;
(3) Have 30% of students on a multi-track year-round calendar, or
(4) Have 20% of students housed in portable classrooms.
After January 1, 2000, districts must meet at least two of those conditions in order to levy fees above the statewide cap.
For more details, see CP&DR, September 1998.
ACA 10 (Proposition 11
When the Legislature re-opened the November ballot, it created an opportunity to move up an election on ACA 10, which probably otherwise would have taken place in 2000.
Introduced by Assemblyman George Runner, R-Lancaster, ACA 10 would make it easier for cities to share sales-tax revenues. Under current law, cities cannot share sales-tax revenues without approval from voters in both cities. ACA 10 would permit such sales-tax sharing with approval of a super-majority of the city councils from both cities - thus eliminating the need for a vote.
Runner's constitutional amendment is an attempt to remove one roadblock from sales-tax sharing agreements that might help resolve land-use disputes over retailers in adjacent cities. The notion of eliminating the voter-approval requirement has been kicking around Sacramento for a decade at least, but Runner was the first legislator to navigate the idea through the Legislature.
Runner promoted the idea as a result of his own experience as mayor of Lancaster, which engaged in many sales-tax wars with the neighboring city of Palmdale.
SB 1182 (Chapter 353, Statutes of 1998)
Under a variation on the Williamson Act signed by Gov. Wilson, some agricultural landowners will be able to receive tax breaks on their property for 20 years at a time rather than just 10.
The Williamson Act permits farmers to enter into contracts with the Department of Conservation that commit them to maintaining their property in agriculture for 10 years at a time. In return, county assessors are required to tax their land on the agricultural value, rather than the speculative value, and the state provides the counties with partial reimbursement of the value lost.
Under SB 1182, which Gov. Wilson has already signed into law, agricultural landowners will be able to switch from traditional Williamson Act contracts to "Farmland Security Zone" agreements. The Farmland Security Zone idea, which was promoted by Sen. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, will work in the following fashion:
o Farmland Security Contracts will cover 20 years rather than just 10.
o To qualify, land would have to be identified by the state as prime farmland.
o Local Agency Formation Commissions (LAFCOs) will be prohibited from annexing any land in a Farmland Security Zone if it is not connected to infrastructure or if the landowner objects.
o School districts are prohibited from annexing any land in a Farmland Security Zone.
Permit Streamlining Act
SB 2005 (Chapter 283, Statutes of 1998)
The Legislature passed Sen. Quentin Kopp's SB 2005, which overturns Bickel v. City of Piedmont (1997), 16 Cal.4th 1040. In that ruling - which emerged from a somewhat muddled set of "facts" about a project pending before the Piedmont Planning Commission - the California Supreme Court concluded that an applicant could unilaterally waive the deadlines imposed by state law under the Permit Streamlining Act. Under SB 2005, the only permissible extension is a one-time 90-day extension agreed in writing by both the applicant and the public agency.
SB 256 (Chapter 819, Statutes of 1998.)
Costa's SB 256 extends yet again the deadline for cities and counties to revise their housing elements. This deadline has been extended for several years, largely because the state has not provided funds to regional councils of governments to update the fair-share housing "targets" on which local housing elements must be based. This year, however, Gov. Wilson retained the necessary funds. Under SB 256, the deadlines will be:
o 2000 and 2005 for cities and counties in the Southern California Association of Governments region.
o 2001 and 2006 for cities and counties within the Association of Bay Area Governments region.
o 2002 and 2007 for Fresno, Kern, Sacramento, and Monterey Counties.
o 1999 and 2004 for San Diego.
o 2003 and 2008 for all other areas.
AB 438 (Chapter 796, Statutes of 1998)
This bill, introduced by Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, permits local governments to meet up to 25% of their regional housing need through rehab of existing units if long-term affordability is assured or through the long-term extension of federally subsidized units in danger of losing their subsidies.
AB 1342 (Chapter 635, Statutes of 1998)
This bill, introduced by Assemblywoman Grace Napolitano, D-Norwalk, loosens the "sunset clause" on older redevelopment project areas that was contained in the major redevelopment reform bill of 1993, commonly known as SB 1290. As signed by Gov. Wilson, this bill permits older redevelopment agencies to extend the life of older project areas without making a finding of blight. The bill was promoted by the City of Cerritos, which has one of the most successful older redevelopment project areas. In its original incarnation, the Napolitano bill contained somewhat broader loosening of the 1993 reforms as they applied to older project areas.
SB 147 (Chapter 35, Statutes of 1998)
Last summer, Wilson signed SB 147, a bill introduced by Sen. Quentin Kopp, I-San Francisco, which appears to be the first piece of what could be larger reform of the Marks-Roos bond pooling law. The law requires projects financed by Marks-Roos bonds to be located in the jurisdiction of at least one of the local agencies that are issuing the bonds. (Marks-Roos bonds are issued by joint-powers authorities). The bill was intended to correct a perceived abuse of Marks-Roos bonds. Marks-Roos bonds are meant to create a pool of funds available to finance infrastructure for new real estate development projects in the community issuing the bonds, but in many cases municipalities have been using their bonding authority to finance speculative real estate projects that are hundreds of miles away.
Metropolitan Water District
SB 1875 (Awaiting Governor's Action)
SB 1885 (Chapter 781, Statutes of 1998)
The MWD was engaged in a high-profile debate over whether San Diego should be permitted to buy water from the Imperial Valley (CP&DR September 1998). However, this issue overshadowed other legislative concerns about MWD - most of which are also related to the somewhat rocky internal situation at the giant Southern California water agency.
The San Diego situation has highlighted the power struggles among the agency's 27 member agencies. In hopes of resolving these disputes, the Legislature considered several proposals this year to reorganize the MWD's governance structure, which currently consists of 51 directors from the 27 agencies voting on a weighted basis. The Legislature passed AB 1885 (Ayala), a bill to cut the number of directors to 38 without altering the weighted voting system. The Legislature also passed SB 1875 (Hayden), which would ban MWD from funding personal investigations, create an Office of Ethics, and declare water conservation a higher priority.