Although the state's mounting budget deficit is expected to predominate in Sacramento for many months, 2008 could be a blockbuster year for land use legislation. Scores of bills related to planning, the California Environmental Quality Act, redevelopment, housing, the Subdivision Map Act, and other land use matters have been introduced during the first two months of the year or remain leftover from 2007.
All eyes are focused on SB 375, Sen. Darrell Steinberg's bill from last year that seeks to tie together regional planning, transportation funding, and greenhouse gas reduction. Negotiations over the bill have been ongoing for months, and the legislation remains at the top of the list for environmental groups and builders, but for very different reasons.
Redevelopment has the potential to be the second most lively land use topic. The oldest redevelopment projects (those from 1969 and before) must halt redevelopment activities by the end of this year, unless agencies can make updated blight findings. However, there is a movement to eliminate the updated blight requirement, essentially giving another 10 years of life to all redevelopment project areas.
On the CEQA front, lawmakers have introduced a few bills that seek to streamline the environmental review process, especially for infill projects. At the same time, Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) is carrying a bill that would tighten some CEQA provisions.
The housing market slowdown has halted construction everywhere. Thus, there are at least two bills that would extend the life of all tentative subdivision maps by 24 months. The automatic extensions are a major priority for builders.
But SB 375 remains the hot bill. It's a complicated piece of legislation that would require each metropolitan planning organization to adopt a preferred growth scenario with the intent of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, meaning that infill, mixed-use and transit-oriented development would be favored over subdivisions on the metropolitan edge. Cities and counties that conform their land use decisions to the preferred growth scenario would be eligible for transportation funding and a modest amount of CEQA streamlining. Cities and counties that buck the preferred scenario would be on their own for transportation funding (see CP&DR Insight, September 2007). The bill is likely to evolve in coming months, but the basic emphasis on regional planning, infill development and reducing greenhouse gas emissions is unlikely to change. It is worth noting that Steinberg, a Democrat from Sacramento, has been chosen to succeed Sen. Don Perata (D-Oakland) as the Senate president pro-tem, a move that can only boost Steinberg's influence over legislation.
"It's the big banana right now," Sande George, chief lobbyist for the California Chapter, American Planning Association, said of SB 375. "We've agreed to work with the authors and the sponsors on how this might work." In fact, the CCAPA is so focused on SB 375 that it is not sponsoring any legislation of its own during 2008, she said.
George declined to detail the CCAPA's concerns with the bill because of ongoing negotiations, but local government organizations have not hesitated to complain about the legislation's potential to reduce local land use discretion in favor of a regional approach. Still, the discussion remains mostly cordial.
In a late February legislative bulletin, the California State Association of Counties (CSAC) said the concept of AB 375 is consistent with CSAC policy emphasizing regional approaches to climate change, blueprint planning and preservation of resource and agricultural lands. Still, the organization listed concerns, including the need to coordinate SB 375's preferred growth areas with regional fair-share housing mandates, the ability to use habitat conservation plans to meet SB 375's obligation for determining protected resource lands, and incentives for rural areas that provide resource and agricultural land.
Richard Lyon, a lobbyist for the California Building Industry Association, said that builders could endorse Steinberg's linking of the regional transportation planning process with land use planning, and SB 375's attempt to put some teeth in regional blueprints that have become popular in recent years. However, Lyon said, the bill has a number of drawbacks.
For one, the bill lays out a broad definition of protected resources lands without any deference to local decision-makers, Lyon complained, echoing one of CSAC's concerns. In addition, the bill calls for development to advance outward in concentric circles, which Lyon called "a recipe for litigation." In addition, SB 375 or other legislation needs to contain broader CEQA reform, he said.
"That's the key," Lyon said of CEQA reform. "You can do these blueprints all you want, but if you can't build the projects, you don't get the carbon benefits."
Tina Andolina, legislative director for the Planning and Conservation League, conceded that SB 375 is a work in progress, but one that environmental groups strongly endorse. "It's a tough nut to crack — to reform land use planning to reduce the miles people drive their cars," she said. "This is a first good step."
The Steinberg bill is not the only measure that seeks to use land use policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. One other measure (AB 2093, Jones) would require that all mandatory elements of the general plan except the noise element contain policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The subject of redevelopment is a touchy one these days, in part because of two statewide initiatives on the ballot in June. One would prohibit the use of eminent domain for economic development, while the other would only prohibit government from taking owner-occupied houses for economic development purposes (see CP&DR In Brief, February 2008). Because of those campaigns, it is possible that redevelopment advocates may not make potentially controversial legislative moves until after June 3.
Still, several sources report there is interest in amending SB 211, a measure passed in 2001. That law permits redevelopment agencies to extend their life spans by 10 years, but only if an agency adopts updated blight findings, is in a city or county with a certified housing element, is up to date on its housing set-aside spending, and has had no major audit violations for three years. There is reportedly interest in eliminating at least some of SB 211's restrictions, chiefly the blight requirement. A number of redevelopment "spot bills" were introduced during late February, and any one of those bills could provide the amendment to existing law. The change is likely to draw stiff opposition from some counties and redevelopment opponents, as well as budget hawks who complain redevelopment costs the state money in the form of backfills to school districts that lose property tax revenue to redevelopment agencies.
Also in spot bill form are several CEQA measures that are likely to attempt CEQA streamlining or otherwise diminish environmental review of certain types of projects. Such bills are introduced nearly every year but seldom gain much traction. This year could be different because of the desire to boost infill and transit-oriented development as a strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Kuehl's bill (SB 1165) is headed the other direction. The bill would require that when a project relies on an EIR that is more than five years old, the EIR would have to be recirculated for comments, which could re-open the entire environmental review process. The bill also would ensure the public has as much access to an "administrative" or "preliminary" environmental impact report as a project proponent, and calls on superior courts with designated CEQA judges to ensure those judges actually get CEQA cases. The Planning and Conservation League is sponsoring the bill. Kuehl will be termed out of the Legislature this year and is expected to make a major push for this bill and several others.
The CBIA is sponsoring SB 1185 (Lowenthal), which would extend the expiration date of subdivision maps by 24 months. Another bill, (AB 1777, Houston) proposes the same thing. The association contends that providing more time for builders to complete subdivisions will help the industry recover from the slowdown. Lawmakers approved a similar 24-month subdivision map extension during the housing slump of the early 1990s.
Another CBIA bill (SB 303, Ducheny) that would require cities and counties to identify 10-year land supplies for housing and update each element of the general plan every 10 years remains alive. Planners, local governments and environmentalists are aligned against the bill, which struck a wall of Democratic opposition in the Assembly last year.
Proposed Land Use Legislation For 2008
• AB 2230 (LaMalfa). Revises exemptions for the payment of CEQA filing fees to fund Department of Fish and Game reviews.
• SB 1165 (Kuehl). Requires recirculation of any EIR that is more than five years old when a project relies on the EIR, and increases public access to preliminary draft EIRs.
• SB 1210 (Dutton). Republican spot bill on infill exemptions from CEQA.
Fees and revenues
• AB 239 (DeSaulnier). Permits Contra Costa and San Mateo counties to increase real estate document recording fees to fund affordable housing development.
• AB 938 (Calderon). Creates a stormwater management process whose programs could be funded by user fees. Builders support this approach to paying for stormwater management.
• AB 1221 (Ma). Permits local officials to dedicate property tax increment to retire bonds for infrastructure within transit village development districts.
• AB 1574 (Houston). Limits the imposition of real estate transfer fees.
• AB 1836 (Feuer). Authorizes city councils and boards of supervisors to create infrastructure finance districts (IFD) that can issue bonds and divert tax increment to retire the debt. Currently, IFD creation requires voter approval.
• AB 2218 (Gaines). Modifies procedures for Proposition 218 fee elections.
• SCA 12 (Torlakson). Exempts stormwater and urban runoff management fees from Proposition 218 vote requirements.
• SB 974 (Lowenthal). Imposes a fee on cargo containers going through ports in Long Beach, Los Angeles and Oakland to fund infrastructure and mitigate air pollution. Extremely controversial bill.
• AB 1129 (Arambula). Creates the San Joaquin Valley Regional Affordable Housing Trust.
• AB 2000 (Mendoza). Allows a city or county that exceeds production of its fair-share housing allocation to count the excess against subsequent fair-share requirements.
• AB 2069 (Jones). A spot bill that seeks to tighten existing restrictions on reducing permitted densities of residentially zoned land.
• SB 668 (Torlakson). Exempts housing built on school property from seismic safety standards that apply to schools, and declares that the Department of General Services is not required to review the housing plans.
• SB 900 (Corbett). Repeals a Subdivision Map Act provision exempting from local government approval the conversion of a mobile home park to resident ownership.
• SB 1065 (Correa). Allows cities and counties to acquire loans for the purpose of refinancing mortgages on owner-occupied homes, and to acquire reverse mortgages made to seniors.
• SB 1299 (Migden). Permits local governments to require that demolished rent-controlled units be replaced on the same parcel or elsewhere.
• AB 842 (Jones). Awards Proposition 1C funds for transit-oriented development to entities with local or regional plans that reduce vehicle miles traveled by 10%.
• AB 1756 (Caballero). Establishes the Office of Local Public-Private Partnerships within the Business, Transportation and Housing Agency.
• AB 1815 (Feuer). Creates the temporary Transportation Infrastructure Funding Task Force to explore options for taxing road users other than the gasoline tax.
• AB 1850 (Devore). Creates the Office of Public-Private Partnerships within the governor's office.
• AB 1968 (Jeffries). Authorizes the governor to declare a transportation infrastructure emergency on certain highway segments for the purpose of letting Caltrans expedite construction of new highways and additional lanes.
• AB 2005 (Jeffries). Authorizes the transfer of state parks to local government.
• SB 61 (Runner). Expands authority for regional transportation agencies and Caltrans to build and operate high-occupancy toll lanes and tolls roads.
Local and regional planning
• AB 724 (Benoit). Increases local government's authority to regulate the siting and operation of "sober living homes."
• AB 1777 (Houston) and SB 1185 (Lowenthal). Extend the expiration date of tentative subdivision maps by 24 months.
• AB 2093 (Jones). Requires general plans to contain policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
• AB 2182 (Caballero). Establishes a sustainability communities program within the Office of Planning and Research for the purpose of allocating $90 million in planning grants and incentives contained in Proposition 84.
• AB 2219 (Parra). Modifies the proof of water requirement for large subdivisions by permitting a city or county to count water demand management measures against a subdivision's water need.
• SB 303 (Ducheny). Requires cities and counties to designate land for 10 years worth of housing development, and to update every general plan element at least once every 10 years.
• SB 375 (Steinberg). Regional planning and greenhouse gas emissions reduction bill.
• SB 732 (Steinberg). Creates the Sustainable Communities Council consisting of three cabinet members and two public appointees, and allocates $90 million from Proposition 84 for general plans that encourage water conservation, discourage automobile use, promote infill, protect natural resources and farmland, and are compatible with regional growth blueprints.
• SB 821 (Kuehl). Requires the California Research Bureau to report on implementation of a 2001 law that requires cities and counties to condition approval of subdivisions of more than 500 lots on water availability.
• AB 1088 (Carter). Ensures that an exemption from statutory timelines remains in place for redevelopment projects at the former Norton and George Air Force bases in San Bernardino County.
• AB 1941 (Carter). Authorizes a city, county, housing authority or redevelopment agency to convey surplus land to a developer for any use consistent with a redevelopment plan and a general plan. Currently, surplus land conveyances may be made only for affordable housing projects.
• AB 2097 (Coto). Allows use of housing set-aside funds for homeless shelters and supportive housing.
• AB 2509 (Galgiani). Establishes a $50 million homeownership preservation mortgage guarantee fund in the state treasury, and authorizes redevelopment agencies to guarantee home loans.
• SB 1103 (Cedillo). Requires a city, county or redevelopment agency to disclose specific information before approving an economic development incentive, and to report on the incentives at certain intervals.