California Legislators Introduce New Bills as 2021 Session Kicks Off

Photo by Sergio Ruiz.

Last Monday, the California State Legislature convened to swear in members and introduce the first bills of the 2021-2022 legislative session. To ensure adequate social distancing at this time of increased restrictions, the Assembly held its ceremony in the Golden 1 Center arena, while the Senate, with fewer members, conducted its session in the Capitol’s Senate Chambers.

State Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins has said that housing will continue to be one of her top issues in 2021, and she and her colleagues have already introduced several key pieces of legislation, including the reintroduction of bills from the Senate Housing Production Package that failed passage at the end of the last session due in part to insufficient time for both houses to agree on amendments.

Here’s a round-up of many of the notable bills that have already been introduced, including some key bills that SPUR will be tracking. A few are spot bills that act as placeholders during this stage in the legislative process, and a number are intent bills that establish the intention and direction of the bill, with details to be fleshed out later.

COVID-19-related Tenant Protections

AB 15 by David Chiu, Chair of the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee, would extend and modify key provisions of the author’s AB 3088, the COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act of 2020 from the last session. Among other provisions, the bill would extend the moratorium on evictions for nonpayment of rent from January 31, 2021 to December 31, 2021, as long as tenants pay at least 25% of the rent due. AB 16, another bill introduced by Assemblymember Chiu, has intent language to deal with the long-term financial impacts of the pandemic on tenants, small landlords and affordable housing providers.

For additional insight, see the recent SPUR Digital Discourse “What is California Doing to Protect Tenants?” featuring Assemblymember Chiu, Brian Augusta with Public Interest Advocates and Debra Carlton with the California Apartment Association.

Affordable Housing Finance

ACA 1, introduced by Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, Chair of the Assembly Local Government Committee, along with Assemblymembers Lorena Gonzalez, David Chiu and 12 coauthors, would lower the voter approval requirement for local special taxes and general obligation bonds for affordable housing and public infrastructure from two-thirds to 55%.

A few recent housing bonds have lost despite strong voter support. This past November, the City of San Diego’s $900 million affordable housing bond failed approval even though it received 57.55% approval, and in 2018, the City of San José’s $450 million bond measure for affordable housing failed approval despite winning over 64% of the votes. ACA 1 would give future bonds a greater chance of passage. If approved by the Legislature, this constitutional amendment would then go to voters at a statewide election.

SCA 2, introduced by Senators Ben Allen and Scott Wiener, would, if approved by voters statewide, repeal Article XXXIV (34) of the California Constitution, which requires voter approval for publicly financed affordable housing developments. The California Association of Realtors, which sponsored the original constitutional amendment in 1950, is now sponsoring its repeal.

SB 5 is a spot bill introduced by President Pro Tem Atkins and six other senators with intent language to authorize bonds to finance housing-related programs that serve the homeless and extremely low-income households.

AB 71 by is an intent bill introduced by Assembymembers Luz Rivas and David Chiu to dedicate $2.4 billion annually to homelessness solutions. Revenue sources include state adoption of the federal Global Intangible Low-Taxed Income, which taxes certain intellectual property generated overseas. The bill would create the Bring California Home Fund in the State Treasury and is supported by the Bring California Home Campaign, a coalition SPUR has joined.

AB 49 by Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris is an intent bill to eliminate the California Debt Limit Allocation Committee — which, among other projects, finances affordable housing. The bill would move the committee’s duties and authority to the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee, also in the State Treasurer’s Office. A recent State Auditor’s Report found that the California Debt Limit Allocation Committee had left $2.7 billion in bond authority on the table that could have been used for affordable housing when pollution control projects that had been allocated bonds fell through.

Assemblymember Rudy Salas of Bakersfield has introduced AB 68 as an intent bill to implement recommendations from the recent auditor’s report on the performance of the state’s housing agencies and local impediments to housing production. The report found that the state’s four key financing agencies lack coordination and alignment and that “State law and oversight are not strong enough to ensure that cities and counties are doing their part to facilitate the construction of affordable housing.”

Broadband Access

SB 4, by Senator Lena Gonzalez with 13 coauthors, seeks to expedite the financing and construction of broadband infrastructure in areas with limited internet connectivity. The bill would generate revenues for the California Advanced Services Fund at the California Public Utilities Commission by imposing a surcharge of 23 cents per month per line.

Land Use, Zoning and Streamlined Approvals

SB 6, the Neighborhood Homes Act, introduced by Senators Anna Caballero, Susan Eggman and Susan Rubio along with 12 coauthors, would allow housing developments as a permitted use in commercial zones. The development may be streamlined if, among other provisions, 50% or more of the site has been vacant for at least three years.

SB 7 by President Pro Tem Atkins would extend through 2024 the Jobs and Economic Improvement Through Environmental Leadership Act of 2011, which provides expedited judicial review of CEQA challenges for projects that meet defined environmental and labor requirements. Over the past decade, several large and transformative mixed-use developments have applied as Environmental Leadership Development Projects and have included thousands of housing units, including deed-restricted affordable housing.

SB 8 has been introduced by Senator Nancy Skinner as a spot bill related to State Density Bonus Law. Details to follow.

SB 9, introduced by Senators Atkins, Caballero, Rubio and Wiener along with three coauthors, would allow for duplexes and lot splits in single-family residential zones to be allowed by-right, meaning without case-by-case approvals. The bill is a reprise of SB 1120 from the previous legislative session.

SB 10, introduced by Senator Wiener, would allow cities to adopt an ordinance to zone any parcel of land for up to 10 units of housing if it is located in a transit-rich or jobs-rich area or is an urban infill site. The ordinance will not require environmental analysis.

SB 15 by Senator Anthony Portantino, Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, would provide incentive grants to local governments that rezone idle big-box retail or shopping center sites to allow the development of housing instead.

Sustainable Transportation

AB 43 by Assemblymember Laura Friedman, who was just named as Chair of the Assembly Transportation Committee, would require the California Traffic Safety Program to identify and address locations with pedestrian- and bicyclist-related crashes. The bill would extend the period of time a lowered speed limit can be justified as necessary for safety (as opposed to being used as a speed trap) if there has been an increase in traffic-related crashes.

SB 44, introduced by Senator Allen, would provide expedited judicial review of CEQA challenges for Environmental Leadership Transit Projects, which are defined as major public transit rail line infrastructure projects that meet certain sustainability standards and labor requirements.

Food and Agriculture

SB 20, introduced by Senator Bill Dodd, would, among other provisions, require that community college students who qualify for a waiver of enrollment fees be notified that they may also qualify for benefits under CalFresh, California’s federal food assistance program.

Sustainability and Resilience

Newly elected Senator Dave Cortese of San José has introduced a package of building decarbonization bills (SB 30, SB 31 and SB 32) that would mandate zero-emission standards for new construction statewide. Assemblymember Phil Ting’s AB 33 would prohibit state funding for the construction of new school buildings that have natural gas connections.

Wildfire Response

SB 55 by Senators Henry Stern and Ben Allen would prohibit new housing development in very high fire hazard severity zones.

SB 12 by Senator Mike McGuire would require jurisdictions to identify the locations of all very high fire risk areas in the land use element of their general plan. It would also require jurisdictions to update the safety element of their general plan to include a comprehensive retrofit strategy to reduce the risk of property loss and damage during wildfires.

The Legislature will reconvene after the holidays on January 4, 2021, and SPUR will continue to track bills that are introduced and work on its legislative priorities for 2021.

For more information, contact Michael Lane at [email protected]