Governor Signs CEQA Reform, Land Use Bills

Legislation Helps Relieve Building Red Tape

Two California Chamber of Commerce-supported bills that will help expedite home building, one dealing with California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) reform and another with land-use improvements, have been signed by Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.

AB 1804: Promotes Housing Development

AB 1804 (Berman; D-Palo Alto) expedites infill development of affordable housing by expanding the existing California Environmental Quality Act exemption for infill projects to unincorporated areas already surrounded by urbanized land uses and populations.

By expanding this categorical exemption, the bill would incentivize and streamline the development of affordable housing units in unincorporated areas surrounded by urban uses. Although the bill expands the geographic scope of the exemption, AB 1804 limits projects that may qualify to multi-family projects of at least six units at a density at least equivalent to the surrounding area, and no less than six units per acre.

CEQA serves an important goal of preventing public agencies from approving projects with potentially significant impacts if there are feasible mitigation measures that would eliminate or substantially reduce those impacts. Notwithstanding these benefits, CEQA is often used by special interest and community groups to delay, scale back, or halt projects altogether for reasons unrelated to the environment.

By revising the CEQA categorical exemption to narrowly include residential and mixed-use housing in certain unincorporated areas, AB 1804 balances the vital need for new housing with ensuring that any potential project subject to the exemption does not have a significant effect on the environment. Until significant changes are made to the underlying CEQA process, CalChamber supports efforts to streamline the CEQA review process for the types of projects identified in this bill.

Adequate and affordable housing is fundamental for the well-being of communities, businesses and the economy of the state as a whole. While California continues to reel from one of the most severe housing crises the state has ever experienced, it is imperative for the Legislature to do everything within its power to help expedite the construction of new residential and mixed-use housing.

AB 2913: Promotes Fairness in Housing Construction

AB 2913 (Wood; D-Healdsburg) provides that a permit would remain valid if the work on the site authorized by that permit is begun within 3 years after its issuance, or if the work authorized on the site by the permit is suspended or abandoned for a period of up to 3 years after the time the work has begun.

The bill extends the duration of a building permit from 6 months to 12 months. Given the statewide (and national) workforce shortage, it is not uncommon for builders to have to suspend operations for a short period to find the full slate of workers needed for a specific job. This change in law would be particularly helpful in fire-ravaged areas where the workforce shortage has been further exacerbated and the need to rebuild quickly is great. With the extent of the devastation and the number of homes that need to be rebuilt, one can expect delays. AB 2913 will help make sure that delay does not result in the need for duplicative building permit applications and fees.

AB 2913 will also make the permitting process less cumbersome. State and local economic conditions may change, causing some projects to slow down. Additionally, California’s state and local building codes change every 18 months; these small changes in the building code should not force a previously approved project to have to go back to the end of the permit line and resubmit (expensive) compliance documentation and pay a new set of fees for homes that were previously approved for construction.

Staff Contact: Adam Regele

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Adam Regele
Adam Regele joined the CalChamber in April 2018 as a policy advocate specializing in environmental policy, housing and land use, and product regulation issues. He came to CalChamber after practicing law at Oakland-based Meyers, Nave, Riback, Silver & Wilson, PLC, where he advised private and public clients on complex projects involving land use and environmental laws and regulations at the local, state and federal levels. Before entering private practice, Regele served as a federal judicial law clerk to the Honorable Edward J. Davila of the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California. Regele earned a B.S. in environmental science at the University of California, Berkeley, and a J.D. from UC Hastings College of Law, where he was symposium editor and research and development editor for the Hastings West-Northwest Journal.