Legislation identified by the California Chamber of Commerce as a job creator because it will minimize frivolous litigation that blocks infill housing projects won bipartisan approval from a Senate policy committee and is headed for a vote by the entire Senate.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved SB 659 (Borgeas; R-Fresno) on a vote of 5-4 on April 30.
In testimony to the committee, CalChamber Policy Advocate Adam Regele noted that the bill is “narrowly crafted to protect crucial housing from meritless frivolous lawsuits.”
The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is used sometimes by special interest and community groups to delay, scale back or halt projects for reasons unrelated to the environment.
SB 659 acknowledges the urgency of timely housing construction and seeks to discourage frivolous CEQA litigation filed to block or slow critically needed infill housing projects by awarding reasonable attorney’s fees to the prevailing party.
By discouraging frivolous CEQA litigation, SB 659 will expedite construction for infill housing projects, reduce costs associated with CEQA litigation, and create more jobs.
California is in the depths of a serious housing crisis. Various reports estimate the state’s housing deficit is between 3 million and 4 million housing units.
The supply and demand imbalance has driven up home costs, making homeownership in the state an impossible dream for many Californians to achieve. The imbalance has forced hundreds of thousands of Californians into long commutes, living in crowded households, or homelessness.
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 used sometimes for reasons unrelated to the environment at little cost to the plaintiff.
For example, a group of neighbors in San Francisco have raised more than $100,000 through a GoFundMe website to hire a CEQA attorney to block a proposed homeless shelter in their neighborhood.
Although SB 659 would not preclude them or anyone from filing a CEQA cause of action, it would help to ensure that parties do so for legitimate environmental concerns and as CEQA was intended—not because a party does not want a project built.
Until significant changes are made to the underlying process, the CalChamber supports efforts to identify ways to expedite the development of critical housing projects.
SB 659 is one such effort that is limited to infill housing projects and does not affect any of the substantive requirements of CEQA or streamline judicial review. Accordingly, all the environmental safeguards built into CEQA are preserved under this bill.
Senate Judiciary voted 5-4 on April 30 to send SB 659 to the Senate floor:
Ayes: Allen (D-Santa Monica), Borgeas (R-Fresno), Caballero (D-Salinas), Jones (R-Santee), Umberg (D-Santa Ana).
Noes: Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), Monning (D-Carmel), Stern (D-Canoga Park), Wieckowski (D-Fremont).