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April 8, 2020

New regs challenge housing limits in CA cities

As cities like Morgan Hill, Gilroy and Hollister struggle to slow construction of new housing with self-imposed slow-growth measures, they fear that the new Housing Crisis Act of 2019 could reverse their efforts.

The new state law signed this month by Gov. Gavin Newsom redefines the housing development approval process for municipalities in an effort to provide more housing options and alleviate California’s housing shortage.

The new law also allows unlimited residential permits and expedited building permits, and limits public review of proposed housing projects, local design requirements and some parking requirements.

The new law will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020. 

Undeterred, the Hollister City Council on Oct. 21 adopted a new growth management ordinance, despite the possibility that it may not be in compliance with the new state law. The new ordinance limits the amount of residential units approved each year to 159 market-rate units.

Mayor Ignacio Velazquez said at the meeting that he would not allow the state to “bully” the city into more development. 

“When the state wants to come over and take care of our highways and take care of our schools, then we can have a conversation about how many houses they want us to build,” said Velazquez. “We are in trouble right now with our infrastructure.”

Velazquez has been pushing for a new growth ordinance throughout his last four terms as mayor. He had previously refused to approve any new residential developments until a new growth ordinance was put in place. Although he said he still felt the 159 units were too many, he supported the ordinance.

Councilmember Honor Spencer changed her previous vote of approval in light of the new law, casting the lone negative vote. Spencer worried that if the city passed a new growth ordinance, they risked being sued by the state or developers for not being in compliance. 

“I know I’ve voted twice on this, but it was before SB 330 came out,” said Spencer, who has announced her candidacy for mayor, as has Velazquez.

Still the other four council members voted to approve the new housing limits.

The new law will be in effect for five years. According to the bill text, it “prohibits a local agency from disapproving, or conditioning approval in a manner that renders infeasible, a housing development project for very low, low- or moderate-income households or an emergency shelter unless the local agency makes specified written findings based on a preponderance of the evidence in the record.”

The act specifies that “one way to satisfy that requirement is to make findings that the housing development project or emergency shelter is inconsistent with both the jurisdiction’s zoning ordinance and General Plan land use designation as specified in any element of the General Plan as it existed on the date the application was deemed complete.”

It also requires a local agency that proposes to disapprove a housing development project that complies with applicable, objective General Plan and zoning standards, or to approve it on the condition that it be developed at a lower density, now has “the burden of proof,” instead of the developer.

The act requires a court to impose a fine on a local agency under certain circumstances and requires that the fine be at least $10,000 per housing unit in the housing development project on the  date the application was deemed complete.

A city could maintain areas as open space, but the new law then requires higher-density housing in the downtown corridor or other areas of the city. 

Planning Manager Abraham Prado said the city would send the new ordinance to the California Department of Housing and Community Development to get feedback about how it matches up with the new state law.

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