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Fire-Safety Planning Legislation Advances

Two bills that would require greater consideration of fire safety in land use planning appear likely to reach the governor's desk before the Legislature recesses its regular session on September 11. Moreover, a late move to link the fire planning bills to disaster relief legislation could increase the chances that Gov. Schwarzenegger will actually sign the bills.

The fire planning bills are exceptions, as very little substantive legislation concerning land use or anything else appears likely to pass the Legislature this year. A number of sources inside and outside the Capitol said they could not remember the situation being so sedate during the final weeks before the mid-term recess.

"It is eerily quiet. It is scarily quiet," said Sande George, the lobbyist for the American Planning Association's California chapter. George's list of bills she is tracking is unusually short. Other bill lists compiled by advocates and legislative aides indicate that many pieces of legislation are "two-year" bills, meaning they will not advance until after lawmakers return from their recess in January.

A package of Bay Delta water bills appears unlikely to advance, especially given rising resistance from agricultural interests. The Democratic authors of AB 39 (Huffman), AB 49 (Feuer), SB 12 (Simitian), SB 229 (Pavley) and SB 485 (Wolk) say the package provides a framework for moving forward with the Delta ecosystem restoration and improved water supply reliability (see CP&DR Capitol Update, August 15, 2009). Detractors say the bills would do little for water supply, and Schwarzenegger has promised he will not sign the bills unless the package includes a bond to fund increased water storage facilities. Still, the bills remain alive this year and a priority for Democratic lawmakers.

Continuing to loom is a proposal from the City of Industry that would permit redevelopment agencies to extend project deadlines by 40 years without new findings of blight in exchange for giving the state 10% of tax increment. The proposal failed when lawmakers approved the state budget in July, but Industry's lobbyists continue to shop around the proposal.

The fire planning bills are AB 666 by Assemblyman Dave Jones (D-Sacramento) and SB 505 by Sen. Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego). In late August, both bills passed out of appropriations committees, which have been death zones for so much legislation during the state budget crisis. The Jones bill would require counties to determine that proposed development in a state fire responsibility area or "very high fire hazard severity zone" would, at a minimum, meet the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) standards for access, design and service availability. The bill would not apply to cities. It is similar to AB 2447 from last year, a bill that Schwarzenegger vetoed because he said it would give a state agency an inappropriate role in local land use decisions.

Citing support from firefighters, Jones brought the legislation back this year with minor amendments. "We cannot continue to approve new building sites in the most hazardous areas if there is not adequate fire protection," he said.

Although CalFire says it will cost $1 million to provide consultation and project reviews under AB 666, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the bill. What's more, the committee chaired by Kehoe ensured that two disaster relief bills (AB 15 Fuentes, and AB 50 Nava) could not take effect unless both AB 666 and SB 505 become law. The disaster relief bills for Southern California wildfires in 2007, 2008 and earlier this year, are almost certain to pass.

The California State Association of Counties, which has opposed stricter fire planning standards, has dropped its position against AB 666. However, the counties remain opposed to SB 505 because of its cost. That bill would require cities and counties with territory in state responsibility areas or very high fire hazard severity zones to amend general plan safety elements with an extensive explaination of local fire hazards. The elements would also have to contain goals, policies, objectives and implementation measures that conform to an update of a state fire hazard planning guidance document. Local governments would have to amend their safety elements by 2015. The bill also requires the Governor's Office of Planning and Research to update fire hazard planning guidance by 2011 although OPR may not remain in business (see Insight).

A few land use bills have already passed the Legislature and await the governor's consideration. Lawmakers approved AB 720 (Caballero), which would permit a city or county to meet up to 25% of its fair-share housing allocation through acquisition, preservation or rehabilitation of affordable housing units. The California Redevelopment Association and League of California Cities sponsored AB 720, but affordable housing advocates are skeptical because no additional units would be created. Those advocates, however, were pleased the Legislature approved AB 570 (Arambula), which modifies the state housing trust fund matching program to make it easier for small jurisdictions to receive money. Also passing recently was SB 215 (Wiggins), a measure that requires a Local Agency Formation Commission, when acting on proposed boundary changes, to consider a regional transportation plan, and the sustainable communities strategies or alternative planning strategies required under SB 375.

In addition, the governor has already signed several bills, including AB 210 (Hayashi), clarifying how cities and counties may adopt green building standards more stringent than state standards; AB 333 (Fuentes), urgency legislation that extended the expiration date of subdivision maps by two years; and SB 430 (Dutton), extending from 10 years to 15 years the time limit on San Bernardino County's Cedar Glen disaster recovery project area redevelopment plan;


Other bills that appear to have some chance of passing before the recess:

ACA 9 (Huffman). Would decreased the vote threshold for some local bond measures from two-thirds to 55%.

AB 494 (Caballero). Would exempt from the Subdivision Map Act nonprofit farm worker housing projects of no more than five acres on agricultural land. The scope of the bill has been substantially reduced because of earlier opposition from planners and counties.

AB 566 (Nava). Would permit cities and counties to consider mobile home park tenant support for a mobile home park owner's proposal to convert a park to condominiums or common-interest ownership (see Legal Digest).

AB 1158 (Hayashi). Would modify the definition of a transit village to also include educational facilities. The bill is linked to AB 338 (Ma), which would authorize local governments without voter approval to use tax increment financing to pay for transit village infrastructure.

SB 43 (Alquist). Would authorize creation of a joint powers authority in Santa Clara to construct and operate a professional football stadium.

SB 93 (Kehoe). Would limit a redevelopment agency's spending on public works outside of a redevelopment project area.

SB 99 (Senate Local Government Committee). Would impose additional accountability requirements on public agencies that provide conduit financing.

SB 279 (Hancock). Would authorize use of community facility district (Mello-Roos) financing for water conservation, energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements.

SB 406 (DeSaulnier). Would permit metropolitan planning organizations, regional transportation commissions and certain air districts to place a $1 or $2 surcharge on vehicle registrations to fund regional and subregional planning efforts.

SB 545 (Cedillo). Would require that any extension of the 710 freeway through South Pasadena be constructed in a tunnel.

SB 575 (Steinberg). Cleanup legislation that specifies housing element deadlines under last year's SB 375.