A bill tying all local transportation projects to a regional "preferred growth scenario" that reduces automobile travel is quickly becoming the most important land use proposal of recent years in Sacramento.

The bill has sparked sharp debate in the Legislature over land use policy, with some Republicans criticizing what they see as an attempt to force local compliance with a top-down planning system.

Meanwhile, a bill that had led many lists of land use measures, SB 303 by Sen. Denise Ducheny (D-San Diego), stalled in an Assembly committee and is apparently dead for the year. Among other things, the California Building Industry Association (CBIA)-sponsored bill would have required local governments to zone for 10 years worth of housing growth. Ducheny could revive the bill in 2008, or its provisions could be placed into a different piece of legislation after lawmakers return from their summer recess on August 20.

While the developers' housing measure appears to be going under for the third consecutive year, a package of bills that attempts to incorporate flood hazards into land use planning is advancing. Among the bills that remain alive are measures that would require state agencies to take a greater role in flood planning and that would require local governments to comply with state plans.

However, it is SB 375 by Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) that has risen to the top of many agendas. Steinberg contends his legislation is simply the next step in the regional "blueprint" or "visioning" process that all four large councils of government have undertaken during recent years, and is a way of implementing last year's greenhouse gas reduction bill, AB 32. The blueprints adopted by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SAGOC) all speak to infill, higher densities, transit-oriented development and minimizing urban expansion into greenfield areas.

Steinberg's legislation not only requires transportation that planning agencies to adopt such a preferred growth scenario, but also that the scenario be based on greenhouse gas reductions. The bill would further require that all transportation projects comply with the growth scenario.

Steinberg and the bill's defenders have characterized the funding provision as an incentive for cities, counties and regional agencies to implement growth plans that minimize automobile travel. But an Assembly Local Government Committee analysis said, "If this is a proverbial ‘carrot,' it is an extremely hard one."

Before the Senate approved SB 375 on a partisan, 21-15 vote, Steinberg and Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) engaged in an exchange that still has people buzzing.

"I've got news for the authoritarians on the Left," McClintock said. "Most people don't want to live in dense urban cores. Most people want a little elbow room. They want a yard for their children to play in. They want a little grass, a little garden, a little breathing room they can call their own.

"And who the hell are you to tell people they can't?" McClintock continued. "Who the hell are you to tell people how and where they're going to live? Who the hell are you to impose your preferences for their lives over their preferences for their lives?"

Steinberg responded that cities in the SACOG region voluntarily adopted a regional plan "not as an ideology, but as a necessary step to address traffic congestion and air quality." The SACOG blueprint won support from Sacramento liberals and suburban conservatives, he said.

"It's about time we not only start talking about regional planning, but we start acting on it. This bill is a way to get there," Steinberg said. "I proudly stand to urge my colleagues to vote for a more sensible and sane way to grow the state."

Environmental and clean air groups as well as SCAG have endorsed SB 375. However, SANDAG has come out in opposition, and SACOG and many cities and counties are skeptical. California State Association of Counties lobbyist DeAnn Baker said CSAC agrees with Steinberg's intent and supports blueprint processes. But, she said, the blueprint processes have been successful because they are locally-driven, not the result of a prescriptive state law.

"We're concerned that if you push too hard, which this bill does, you'll lose political support at the local level. We're concerned about this taking us backward, about there being a backlash," Baker said. "I think this is beating up the good actors to get to the bad actors."

The bill also contains a number of provisions that exempt certain infill projects from California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review. However, according to a bill analysis, the provisions are very tight and few projects may qualify. "The additional pressure on land use decisions created by SB 375 could lead to an avalanche of [CEQA] suits," the analysis said.

The builders' SB 303 skated through the Senate on a bipartisan 28-2 vote before it stalled in the same Assembly Local Government Committee that asked hard questions about SB 375. The committee staff prepared a long and extremely critical analysis of SB 303, and Committee Chair Anna Marie Caballero (D-Salinas) made it known she would halt the bill's progress.

Opponents said that the bill would place housing above every other concern facing cities and counties. For example, the bill would have narrowed the scope of open space elements so that the documents did not have to consider wildlife habitat, waterways, earthquake fault zones, areas at high risk of flood or fire, military base buffer zones and Native American sacred sites. The intent clearly was to open up more areas for housing development.

The CBIA and other backers said legislation is necessary to prevent cities from blocking needed housing development. During the Assembly Local Government Committee hearing, Assemblyman Guy Houston (R-San Ramon) made a motion to approve the bill — a motion that was followed by an awkward silence. Although SB 303's author is a Democrat, no Senate Republican had voted against the bill. Still, freshman Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, the former mayor of Santa Clarita and the only other Republican on the committee, declined to second Houston's motion.

The package of flood bills is similar to last year's legislation, which builders and real estate interests defeated during the session's final weeks. The bills address comprehensive state flood planning, more flood accountability in general plans and local government liability for flood control projects. Assemblywoman Lois Wolk (D-Davis), who lashed out at builders after last year's defeat, said she is optimistic this year.

"I think we're going to have legislation. The governor is engaged. The building industry is engaged and trying to be constructive," said Wolk, who is carrying three bills this year.  "Everyone recognizes that at the general plan level, we ought to have analysis and planning for floods that's at least as good as we do for fire and earthquakes."


2007 Land Use Legislation Update

These are the top land use bills for the 2007-2008 legislative session. A bill's status as of the beginning of the Legislature's summer recess is in italics. Measures described as "two-year bills" are likely to be dead for the year. Two-year bills and any other legislation that does not pass before the legislative year ends on September 14 may be revived next year.

Economic Development

• AB 89 (Garcia). Directs the Business, Transportation and Housing secretary to study financing mechanisms for infrastructure along the border with Mexico. Approved by Assembly.

• AB 831 (Parra). Requires a sunset date for all new tax breaks or existing tax breaks that get extended. Approved by Assembly.

• AB 1398 (Arambula). Proposes a complete overhaul of the system for awarding hiring tax credits. Among other things, the bill would eliminate the ability to claim multiple tax credits for one job. Two-year bill.

• AB 1606 (Arambula). Requires several state agencies to coordinate preparation of a statewide economic development strategic plan, and to develop a system for measuring the performance of all state policies intended to stimulate the economy. Approved by Assembly.

• ABs 1719, 1720, 1721 and 1722 (Arambula). A series of bills concerning economic development, trade and investment policies. Only AB 1720 remains alive this year.

• SB 103 (Cedillo). Requires local agencies to conduct hearings on the details of proposed economic development subsidies of at least $25,000 and provide reports after approval. Stalled in Assembly.

Flood Control

• AB 5 (Wolk). Requires the Department of Water Resources (DWR) to prepare a Central Valley Flood Protection Plan, and requires cities and counties to comply with the plan's standards. The bill also increases insurance and notice requirements for development in flood hazard zones. Approved by Assembly.

• AB 26 (Nakanishi). Requires the Department of Fish and Game and the Reclamation Board to prepare a natural communities conservation plan (NCCP) for multiple species in the San Joaquin-Sacramento river delta. The bill also directs the agencies to prepare a streambed alteration agreement based on the NCCP. Stalled in Assembly.

• AB 70 (Jones). Makes local governments partially liable if a flood control project fails. Approved by Assembly.

• AB 156 (Laird). Increases the DWR role in Central Valley flood protection. The bill requires DWR to report on levee conditions, map flood-prone areas, undertake levee maintenance, provide annual warning notices to landowners, and establish mitigation banks.  Approved by Assembly.

• AB 162 (Wolk). Requires cities and counties to include flood hazard information, policies, and implementation measures in general plans.  Approved by Assembly.

• AB 1452 (Wolk). Sets priorities — including environmental enhancements — for allocating funds from Proposition 1E, last year's $4.1 billion flood prevention bond. The bill complements AB 5. Approved by Assembly.

• SB 5 (Machado). Requires DWR to prepare a Sacramento-San Joaquin River flood management system plan, and mandates that cities and counties amend their general plans to comply with the state plan. Approved by Senate.

• SB 6 (Oropeza). Requires local governments to consider in their general plans the potential impacts of global climate change, and prohibits subdivisions in areas that could be flooded by rising sea levels. Two-year bill.

• SB 17 (Florez). Renames the Reclamation Board the Central Valley Flood Protection Board and requires the board to review local and regional land use plans for compliance with standards adopted by the board. Approved by Senate.

• SB 34 (Torlakson). Authorizes DWR to collect user fees and assessments to fund flood control in the Delta. Approved by Senate.

Funds for planning

• AB 1253 (Caballero). Establishes criteria for the Resources Agency to distribute $90 million to local and regional governments for long-term planning, and $90 million for "urban greening" projects. Funds come from Proposition 84. Approved by Senate.

• SB 732 (Steinberg). Takes a comprehensive approach to funding contained in Propositions 84 and 1C for sustainable communities/urban greening, planning, local parks and housing-related parks. Among other things, the bill requires that local and regional governments receiving long-term planning grants or loans agree to plan consistently with Proposition 84's strong environmental goals, and that cities and counties consent to plan consistently with any regional blueprint. The bill has been amended numerous times and more amendments are likely. Approved by Senate.

• SB 669 (Torlakson). Makes the Great California Delta Trail eligible for Proposition 84 planning funds. Stalled in Assembly.



• AB 414 (Jones). Limits cities' and counties' use of land zoned for nonresidential uses in meeting regional housing needs. Approved by Assembly.

• AB 641 (Torrico). Requires that local governments defer all fees on projects with at least 49% affordable units until the certificate of occupancy stage. Approved by Assembly.

• AB 1096 (DeVore). Requires the Governor's Office of Planning and Research to report on the California Environmental Quality Act's impact on affordable housing development. Two-year bill.

• AB 763 (Saldaña). Increases the required notice given to tenants of apartments being converted to condominiums. Approved by Assembly.

• AB 1053 (Nuñez). Allocates $450 million from the Proposition 1C housing bond for infrastructure related to infill housing. Approved by Assembly.

• AB 1254 (Caballero). Reduces the shift of property tax revenue from cities and counties to school districts when the city or county approves an affordable housing project. Two-year bill.

• AB 1256 (Caballero). Exempts local governments from the state density bonus law if the local government has an inclusionary zoning ordinance that mandates a portion of new units be available to low- or moderate-income residents. Two-year bill.

• AB 1449 (Saldaña). Tightens eligibility for density bonuses and waivers of local regulations. Two-year bill.

• AB 1497 (Niello). Exempts land that is covered by Williamson Act contracts from the inventory of land suitable for meeting regional housing needs. Two-year bill.

• AB 1542 (Evans). Imposes new requirements for the conversion of mobile home parks to resident-owner subdivisions.  Approved by Assembly.

• SB 2 (Cedillo). Requires cities and counties to identify and zone sites for development of emergency shelters and transitional housing without conditional use permits. Approved by Senate.

• SB 12 (Lowenthal). Revises the Southern California Association of Governments' regional housing needs assessment process to align with the regional transportation plan. Signed by governor.

• SB 46 (Perata). Establishes how the Department of Housing and Community Development may spend the $850 million in Proposition 1C's regional planning, housing and infill incentive account. Approved by Senate.

• SB 303 (Ducheny). Requires cities and counties to identify land for 10 years worth of housing demand, update housing elements every five years, and update all other general plan elements every 10 years. The bill also narrows the definition of land to be considered in an open space element. Two-year bill.

• SB 900 (Corbett). Increases the ability of local governments to block the conversion of mobile home parks to resident-owned condominiums, which would not be subject to rent control. Two-year bill.

Local government finance

• AB 239 (DeSaulnier). Authorizes Contra Costa and San Mateo counties to impose a $25 real estate recording fee to fund affordable housing. Stalled in Senate.

• AB 373 (Wolk). Makes numerous technical and substantive changes to the School Facilities Improvement District and the Mello-Roos Community Facilities acts. Among other things, the bill makes road maintenance and lighting, graffiti removal and snow plowing eligible for financing through Mello-Roos taxes. Approved by Assembly.

• AB 980 (Calderon). Requires greater disclosure of real property transfer fees that fund various local government programs and projects. Approved by Assembly.

• AB 1091 (Bass). Establishes policies for HCD's administration of $300 million in transit-oriented development funding contained in Proposition 1C. Approved by Assembly.

• AB 1221(Ma). Permits a city or county to divert tax increment to fund infrastructure for transit villages. Stalled in Senate.

• AB 1574 (Houston) and SB 670 (Correa). Restrict the imposition of real property transfer fees. Two-year bills.

• SCA 12 (Torlakson). Exempts fees to fund stormwater projects from Proposition 218's voter approval requirement. In Senate.

• SB 934 (Lowenthal). Authorizes creation of up to 100 housing and infrastructure zones in which tax-increment financing would pay for a variety of housing and infrastructure projects. Two-year bill.

Natural resources

• SB 27 (Simitian). Calls for a new study of a potential "peripheral canal" that would channel fresh water around the Delta toward Southern California. Stalled in Assembly.

• SB 421 (Ducheny). Authorizes the Department of Parks and Recreation to acquire property under a conservation easement or similar restriction. Approved by Senate.

• SB 634 (Wiggins). Prohibits local governments from approving the subdivision of lands covered by a Williamson Act contract unless the government can make certain findings. Stalled in Assembly.


• ACA 2 (Walters) and SCA 1 (McClintock). Limit the use of eminent domain. Two-year bills.

• ACA 8 (De La Torre). Prohibits the taking of owner-occupied housing for economic development projects. The measure also prohibits the taking of small businesses unless the owner is first given a chance to participate in the proposed development project. In Assembly committee.

• AB 887 (De La Torre). Provides additional notice and compensation for owners and tenants of property the government takes via eminent domain. On Senate floor.

• AB 987 (Jones). Permits almost any low- or moderate-income person to enforce affordability covenants on housing units subsidized with redevelopment funds. Approved by Assembly.

• AB 1553 (DeSaulnier). Allows use of tax increment for loans to firefighters for the purchase or rehabilitation of homes in a project area. Two-year bill.

• SB 437 (Negrete McLeod). Requires redevelopment agencies to report their project area's time limits in annual reports and implementation plans. Signed by governor.


• AB 35 (Ruskin), AB 888 (Lieu), AB 1058 (Laird). Require state agencies to establish sustainability standards for building construction. All three bills have been approved by Assembly.

• SB 375 (Steinberg). Requires most transportation funding to be consistent with regional growth "blueprints." Approved by Senate.

• AB 411 (Emmerson). Gives cities and counties greater say over the siting of group homes for six or fewer residents. Two-year bill.

• AB 665 (DeSaulnier). Requires the Department of Housing and Community Development to produce the Growth Management Information Report every five years. Stalled in Senate.

• AB 704 (Eng). Requires local governments to establish a resident advisory commission on the environment to make planning recommendations. Two-year bill.

• AB 724 (Benoit), SB 530 (Dutton), SB 992 (Wiggins) and SB 1000 (Harman). Address local government concerns with the siting and licensing of "sober living" homes in residential areas. All four pieces of legislation are two-year bills.

• AB 889 (Lieu). Creates a new authority to construct a rail line to the coast of Los Angeles, including a stop at Los Angeles International Airport. Two-year bill.

• AB 1066 (Laird). Requires local governments that could be affected by rising sea levels to account for climate change when updating general plans. The bill charges OPR with preparing guidelines for how local governments should consider the issues. Approved by Assembly.

• SB 10 (Kehoe). Changes the governance and structure of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority and assigns the entity various duties and deadlines related to siting a new airport. Stalled in Assembly.

• SB 162 (Negrete McLeod). Requires local agency formation commissions to consider environmental justice when considering boundary changes. Approved by Senate.