City leaders discuss priority housing bills and immediate action steps during virtual call to action

Aug 25, 2021

The current legislative cycle ends on September 10. Cities still have time to stop several harmful housing measures, including SB 9 (Atkins) and AB 989 (Gabriel).

On Tuesday, hundreds of city officials from throughout the state joined a virtual League of California Cities call to action to receive the latest update on several priority housing bills moving through the Legislature. The briefing featured updates on measures that would hinder cities’ ability to plan for the type of housing that’s needed in their communities and stifle local democracy, as well as steps that cities can take today to help stop these measures.

The call to action focused on five priority bills: AB 989 (Gabriel), AB 1401 (Friedman), and AB 215 (Chiu), AB 500 (Ward), and most notably SB 9 (Atkins). “SB 9 is a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach to land use policy that caters to developers, silences community input, and doesn’t even guarantee affordable housing,” said Cal Cities President and El Centro Mayor Cheryl Viegas Walker.

During the briefing, Cal Cities leadership stressed the urgency of taking action now to ensure the voices of city leaders are heard loud and clear in the Capitol.

“You put it all together and these bills are bad policy,” said Cal Cities Executive Director and CEO Carolyn Coleman. “They are bad for our communities and bad for our state. That’s why the message you are hearing today is we need to stop [these bills] now...Not two weeks from now, but immediately.”

Some bills, including SB 9, may be voted on as early as Thursday, August 26. Cities are encouraged to oppose the measures summarized below, and can contact their Regional Public Affairs Manager or visit the Cal Cities Action Center for more information.  

SB 9 (Atkins) Housing Development Approvals — Oppose

Although SB 9 was recently amended, Cal Cities’ core argument remains the same: Cities are collectively identifying sites for more than two million additional homes, and SB 9 disregards these efforts by mandating more housing in existing single-family zones. Lawmakers should avoid pushing unproven policies that undermine local planning, change the rules mid-stream, or conflict with the myriad of new housing laws recently passed.

Under the bill’s new provisions, cities may deny a proposed housing project if it would have a specific, adverse impact upon public health and safety or the physical environment, and if there is no feasible method to satisfactorily mitigate or avoid said impact. Unfortunately, the amendment’s scope is extremely limited and would likely only apply in a handful of cases.  

Additionally, the measure now requires an applicant to sign an affidavit stating that they intend to occupy one of the housing units as their principal residence for a minimum of three years from the date of the approval of the urban lot split. However, this provision falls short of a mandatory obligation to occupy one of the new units.

What can your city do about SB 9? This bill can be voted on as early as Thursday, August 26. Call your Assembly Member and Senator today and ask them to vote no on SB 9. Then, send a letter of opposition to your Legislator and sign on to Cal Cities’ coalition letter opposing SB 9. Contact your Regional Public Affairs Manager for more information about the bill’s status or the coalition letter.

AB 989 (Gabriel) Housing Appeals Committee — Oppose

Although SB 9 has received the lion’s share of attention, several other bills would also have a negative impact on communities throughout the state. For example, AB 989 would create an Office of Housing Appeals within the California Department of Housing and Community Development, which would have the power to review alleged violations of the Housing Accountability Act for specified housing development projects. The bill allows an appeals panel, not a court, to overturn a local land use decision. Although AB 989 is intended to speed these types of reviews up, it actually slows the process down by adding an additional layer of bureaucracy.

What can your city do about AB 989? Call your Senator if they are a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and voice your opposition to AB 989.​ Then, send a letter of opposition to your Senator.​

AB 1401 (Friedman) Residential and Commercial Development. Parking Requirements — Oppose

Like the previous measures, AB 1401 fails to consider local conditions, circumstances, or needs. The bill would prohibit local governments (depending on population) from imposing or enforcing a minimum automobile parking requirement for residential, commercial, and other developments if the parcel is located within a one-half mile or one-quarter mile walking distance of public transit. However, restricting parking requirements does not guarantee that individuals living, working, or shopping on those parcels will actually use transit. Many residents will continue to own automobiles and require nearby parking, which will only increase parking demand and congestion.

AB 1401 also would give developers and transit agencies — who are unaccountable to local voters — the power to determine parking requirements. Additionally, the bill could negatively impact the state’s Density Bonus Law by providing developers parking concessions without also requiring them to include affordable housing units in the project.  

What can your city do about AB 1401? Call your Senator if they are a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and voice your opposition to AB 1401.​ Then, send a letter of opposition to your Senator.​

AB 215 (Chiu) Housing Element — Oppose

Fortunately, Cal Cities helped secure amendments that addressed many cities’ original concerns with AB 215. Unfortunately, the author also added several new amendments that could negatively impact cities. The measure currently authorizes the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) to appoint or contract with other counsel if the Attorney General (AG) declines to represent the department in a lawsuit against a city. AB 215 would also allow a three-year statute of limitation to apply to any action or proceeding brought by the AG or HCD.   

What can your city do about AB 215? These new amendments may be removed. However, cities should draft a letter of opposition in the event that action is needed. Be prepared to contact your Senator and Assembly Member.

AB 500 (Ward) Local Planning. Permitting. Coastal Development — Reconsidering

AB 500 is the bill to pay attention to for cities in the coastal zone. Cal Cities opposed the bill in its original form, which would have granted the California Coastal Commission housing authority, thus potentially creating two conflicting mandates for cities. The measure was recently amended into a study bill, which Cal Cities does not oppose. However, the bill may be amended again, this time closer to its original form, which Cal Cities does oppose.

What can your city do about AB 500? Currently, no action is needed. Contact your Regional Public Affairs Manager for more information about the bill’s status.