California Legislature Passes Two Housing Bills to Streamline Permitting Despite Local Opposition

Senate Bill 423, Senate Bill 4, SB 423, SB 4, SB 35, California Housing Consortium, California YIMBY, UC Berkeley's Terner Center for Housing Innovation, Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California, California State Building and Construction Trades Council, California Conference of Carpenters

In a move aimed at addressing California’s housing crisis, the State Legislature on Monday passed two bills, Senate Bill 423 and Senate Bill 4, designed to streamline housing permitting processes. These bills have sparked debates between supporters who see them as essential tools to combat the housing crisis and critics who argue that they infringe upon local control, according to a recent report in the San Jose Mercury News.

Senate Bill 423 builds upon the success of a 2017 state housing law, SB 35, which allowed developers to bypass certain permitting requirements in cities falling short of state-mandated housing goals, albeit solely for subsidized affordable housing. SB 423 extends this law, set to expire in 2026, to include developers of mixed-income multifamily housing.

Proponents of SB 423, including organizations such as the California Housing Consortium and California YIMBY (“Yes in My Backyard”), anticipate that it will help accelerate housing development. A study by UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation suggests that SB 35 has already resulted in over 18,000 proposed new units across the state. However, California remains far from its goal of constructing 2.5 million new homes within the next eight years.

Brian Hanlon, CEO of California YIMBY, lauds SB 423 as a way to “build more homes affordable to people at all income levels.” Still, the bill faces opposition from several California cities, particularly a lobbying group named League of California Cities, which raises concerns about losing local control over housing regulations.

Senate Bill 4, introduced by Senator Scott Wiener, aims to facilitate the construction of affordable housing on the land owned by religious institutions and nonprofit colleges, even in cases where local zoning regulations would typically prevent such development. This bill is part of the broader “Yes in God’s Backyard” movement, with support from housing associations and faith groups.

The bill’s supporters argue that it aligns with their compassion and community service values. David Bocarsly, executive director of the Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California, underscores the importance of allowing faith institutions to “live into their values” by contributing to affordable housing initiatives. A 2020 study by UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation indicates that SB 4 could potentially open up nearly 40,000 acres for development.

These bills have divided opinion among influential groups. While labor unions like the California State Building and Construction Trades Council have expressed concerns about the lack of worker protections in SB 423, the California Conference of Carpenters supports the bill, prioritizing the creation of high-paying construction jobs.

Environmental groups initially worried that SB 423 would accelerate apartment development in environmentally sensitive coastal areas. However, amendments to the bill have since addressed these concerns, earning the support of the California Coastal Commission.

Both SB 423 and SB 4 now await the approval of Governor Gavin Newsom, who has recently taken a more assertive stance on municipalities not complying with state housing laws. The bills hold the potential to impact California’s housing landscape significantly, but their fate remains uncertain as the governor’s decision looms.