The 2018 State Laws that Could Shake Up Home Building—and the New Housing Bill that Could Reshape the Palisades

Governor Jerry Brown
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

By JOHN HARLOW | Editor-in-Chief

Some 2018 Californian laws made headlines: mandatory diaper stations, tougher gun controls and, of course, the rather foggy liberalization of recreational marijuana.

But equally important, at least for Californian homeowners, if not headline-writers, are the dozens of new laws that have come into force that deal with new building codes, housing development and affordable homes.

The aim is to build 100,000 homes per year across the state, just to keep up with population growth. (Of course, we could go all “Grapes of Wrath” and turn out-of-state workers away at the Oregon or Nevada border, but that would sink our housing market and does not help hit the other target: to reduce greenhouse gases by 40 percent below 1990 levels.)

Whether any of these new rules work—rather than just create more paperwork—is down to how they are interpreted, legally challenged and put into practice.

Last September in Sacramento, Governor Jerry Brown signed 15 “good” bills, aimed at tackling the state’s unprecedented levels of homelessness and housing unaffordability.

“This package has everything from A to Z—affordability to zoning,” Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon announced. “It’s not a magic wand but it is going to put a lot of drafting tools, backhoes, hammers and door keys to work.”

The tone of the new batch of housing laws, which came into force on Jan. 1, was set by Assemblymember Richard Bloom, whose 50th district includes Pacific Palisades.

He promoted Assembly Bill 1505 that says cities and counties mandate a portion—at least 15 percent—of units in market-rate housing be set aside as affordable to lower income people.

He was also behind Assembly Bill 1521, which seeks to warn tenants when affordable housing protections expire and units can be converted to market-rate units.

More of the pricier bills came out of the Senate, and they do not sunset.

That includes Senate Bill 2, proposed by San Diego Democrat Toni Atkins, which imposes a new $75 to $225 fee on real estate transactions. Of course, this will raise up to $300 million per year to be spent by the state and cities on affordable housing, rental assistance, homeless “navigation centers” and actual homes for the homeless.

How much of that sticks in the bureaucracy and how much trickles down to those who actually need it remains to be seen.

Senate Bill 3 puts a $4 billion bond before voters in November 2018. A quarter of this would be earmarked for military veterans to help them buy starter homes, the rest to fund low-cost housing near jobs and public transportation.

Senate Bill 35 may remove some public hearings and environmental analysis in areas that have not hit their house-building targets—developers love this bill.

Senate Bill 166 stops cities from reducing zoning density agreements.

Senate Bills 167 and 168 make it more difficult for communities to prevent “public worth” projects such as homelessness shelters. No one has proposed such a shelter for the Palisades—the land is too expensive—but if they did, it might be marginally more difficult to prevent now.

Senate Bill 540 encourages cities to pre-plan affordable housing zones next to any new public transport hubs, such as in Santa Monica.

It also sets a percentage of such homes should be affordable: 30 percent in rental units and 10 percent in market-rate developments to be set aside for low-income people who might bid for it by lottery.

The Assembly had its own sheath of bills.

These include Assembly Bill 72, which protects housing officials who report that their own administration is lagging behind in hitting affordable housing targets.

Assembly Bill 73 set out sustainable housing districts—typically in poorer areas, where affordable housing had to make up 20 percent of new stock. This ties into Senate Bill 540.

Assembly Bill 571, from Coachella Democrat Eduardo Garcia, expands the state’s low-income tax credit system to help out farmworkers buy their first home.

Assembly Bill 879 seeks to cap the time between approval and being able to pull permits from city hall. This means more jobs for LA planners.

Assembly Bill 1397 dictates that new residential parcels should have access to water and power before they can be approved—to stop the sale of “dead lots,” which in the past have left street grids but no houses on the edge of the Salton Seas.

Assembly Bill 1515, by Anaheim Democrat Tom Daly, strengthens the Housing Accountability Act, which makes it difficult for community groups to kill new, lower-cost housing projects.

If one theme has emerged from these bills, it is that cities are now more willing than ever to put aside local concerns to build their way out of the homeless crisis.

(P.S. The bills never cease.)

Senator Scott Weiner, from the Bay Area, is introducing legislation that sweeps away planning controls on the number of houses than can be built within a half mile not only of Metro rail but also bus routes.

Like the buses that come down Sunset?

Now that could be radical. Or nightmarish, as LA councilman Paul Koretz fears. He predicted that little neighborhoods with 1920s homes would look like Dubai in a decade.

The homeless rate in Dubai is under 1 percent, so maybe it’s not all bad news?