The close of the 2023 state legislative year brought a number of big wins for SPUR and our advocacy partners. Governor Newsom signed hundreds of bills into law, including nine pieces of SPUR-sponsored legislation that will, among other things, prevent the misuse of environmental review processes to stop or delay new housing, pilot speed safety cameras on streets with high crash rates, and speed up timelines for connecting all-electric buildings and EV charging stations to the power grid. A few of the bills we sponsored didn’t move forward this session — but we’ll continue advocating for these policy changes in the new year.
With our allies in the California Home Building Alliance, a statewide housing production coalition, and bill sponsors, we advocated in particular for passage of two critical senate bills. Senate Bill 423 (Wiener) extends for a decade the landmark law SB 35, enacted in 2017, which streamlines housing approvals. The extension, which SPUR recently celebrated in the San Francisco Chronicle, also expands SB 35’s streamlining to coastal urban areas. Senate Bill 4 (Wiener) allows affordable housing to be built by-right on the property of private colleges and religious institutions. By-right approvals allow projects that meet objective design and development standards to move forward without discretionary project approval by local jurisdictions.
SPUR also sponsored five successful bills aimed at incentivizing housing production for low- and moderate-income residents:
Assembly Bill 1633 (Ting) amends the Housing Accountability Act (HAA) to clarify that it is a violation for a local jurisdiction to deny or withhold an environmental clearance that an urban infill housing development is legally entitled to, unless there is substantial evidence of need for additional environmental study.
Currently, project applicants have no remedy under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when a jurisdiction abuses its discretion by unnecessarily delaying a project approval. Examples include the proposed transit-oriented developments at 469 Stevenson Street in San Francisco and 1396 Fifth Street in Oakland. Delays of these projects by the elected decision-making bodies prompted investigations by the California Department of Housing and Community Development.
Considered by many legal experts to be one of the most important and impactful pieces of legislation for this legislative year, the bill is informed by the work of Christopher S. Elmendorf, Martin Luther King, Jr. Professor of Law, UC Davis and Timothy G. Duncheon, Associate, Covington & Burling LLP. Their article When Super-Statutes Collide: CEQA, the Housing Accountability Act, and Tectonic Change in Land Use Law was published in Ecology Law Quarterly in June. We are very grateful to Professor Elmendorf for his pro bono work on the bill providing legal advice and drafting language throughout the process. Co-sponsoring AB 1633 with SPUR are the Bay Area Council, the California Housing Partnership, and California YIMBY.
Assembly Bill 821 (Grayson) creates a specific written notification process and time limit of 180 days for jurisdictions to align their zoning code with the land use element of the general plan when there is a live project application. If the time limit is exceeded, projects could proceed using the general plan standards and criteria. The Housing Accountability Act was amended in 2019 to allow projects that are at least two-thirds residential to proceed when a city’s zoning code has yet to reflect the city’s land use element. AB 821 would allow mixed-use and other projects and uses to also proceed in this circumstance.
Assembly Bill 894 (Friedman) requires local jurisdictions to allow existing underused parking spaces nearby to be shared by new developments and count toward parking requirements. Projects must follow a methodology and best practices for shared parking developed by the Urban Land Institute, National Parking Association, or the International Council of Shopping Centers. The bill also requires that shared parking arrangements be considered first when public funds are used for new development or parking lots. This bill, which was informed by SPUR and the Mineta Transportation Institute’s Bay Area Parking Census, aims to make better use of valuable land, make development more affordable, and help people find parking.
Assembly Bill 1287 (Alvarez) provides a 70% density bonus for housing finance deals that include at least 20% of units for very low-income households making 50% or less of the area median income. Projects that include moderate-income rental or for-sale units can also get up to a 100% density bonus depending on the percentage of lower-income and moderate-income units included in the project. For example, a project that includes 15% very low-income units and 5% moderate-income units would receive a 70% density bonus. Co-sponsoring the bill with SPUR are Circulate San Diego, the Bay Area Council and the San Diego Housing Commission.
Assembly Bill 911 (Schiavo) authorizes an affordable housing developer with a right-to-purchase agreement for a property to submit an application to modify a private restrictive covenant to allow for an affordable housing development on the property. Currently, only qualified property owners are allowed to submit such an application. This bill also creates greater certainty by clarifying what constitutes a qualifying "permit application" and imposing, upon notice, a 35-day time limit for a party with an interest in the property to file a suit challenging the validity of a restrictive covenant modification.
Senate Bill 125 (Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review) is the trailer bill for California’s 2023–2024 transportation budget. The state’s budget includes a multi-year $5.1 billion funding package for transit with $4 billion in funding for the Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program (TIRCP) and a new, $1.1 billion Zero Emissions Transit Capital Fund (ZETCF), both of which may be used to support transit operations. The Bay Area will receive $800 million in TIRCP and $400 million in ZETCF funds, providing needed financial relief to the region’s transit operators. This is a major victory for the Survive and Thrive Coalition, a statewide group of advocates led by SPUR, Transform, Bay Area Council, and Seamless Bay Area that has been working since the fall of 2022 to expand state support for transit.
Assembly Bill 645 (Friedman) allows six California cities to pilot a limited number of speed safety cameras on streets with high crash rates and in school zones. The pilot would permit automated cameras to monitor speeding and issue tickets in Glendale, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, San José, and San Francisco. Statewide, speeding is the No. 1 cause of severe and fatal traffic crashes. More than 1,000 Californians have died in speed-related traffic crashes every year for the past five years. This is an opportunity for California to demonstrate how camera programs can be managed in an equitable manner that respects privacy and maintains a focus on safety over revenue.
Assembly Bill 1317 (Carrillo) is a 10-county pilot mandating that new housing developments with 16 or more units must unbundle parking fees from the cost of rent. The pilot requires landlords in Alameda, Fresno, Los Angeles, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Joaquin, Santa Clara, Shasta, and Ventura counties to establish separate rates for rent and the use of a parking space. Unbundling aims to lower the cost of housing and reduce car ownership, traffic congestion, and carbon emissions. We anticipate a broader look at parking unbundling in the near future, based on early lessons from this bill. SPUR joined lead sponsor Streets for All in sponsoring the bill.
Senate Bill 532 (Wiener) has been continued and will be considered again in 2024. The bill would have temporarily increased tolls on state-owned bridges in the Bay Area, generating approximately $900 million to avoid transit service cuts. SPUR was a co-sponsor of SB 532 and worked to ensure the toll would be implemented in a way that advanced equity and limited impacts to lower income drivers. We partnered with technology firm Replica to unearth new data about which drivers would be most impacted. Our analysis found that most bridge drivers have higher incomes than most transit riders. We recommended protections for people with low incomes who must drive. SPUR will continue work on this legislation in 2024.
Sustainability and Resilience
Senate Bill 410 (Becker) will address the very long timelines for connecting electrified homes, EV chargers, and new housing to the power grid, a process known as energization. The new law directs the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to set reasonable average and maximum target timelines for energization projects by September 30, 2024. If the CPUC adopts ambitious timelines, it could reduce one of the greatest barriers to decarbonizing buildings: the long delays customers often experience when they need more electricity for their homes.
Food and Agriculture
Assembly Bill 605 (Arambula) did not make it through the legislative process this year but will be reintroduced next year. Co-sponsored by SPUR and Nourish California, the bill would have grown the supplemental benefits program nine-fold with $94 million over two years. The program provides households participating in CalFresh with up to $60 each month in additional food assistance when they buy fresh fruits and vegetables with their electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards. Though the bill was held in Assembly Appropriations, the legislature and Governor Newsom did approve $9.4 million that will extend the life of the program and potentially support a modest expansion. The modest scale of funding makes clear that, despite all the progress made this year, SPUR and others have much more work to do to better match state resources with the needs of struggling Californians.
Assembly Bill 1644 (Bonta) didn’t make it to the governor’s desk in 2023 but will be reintroduced next year. The bill would have transitioned food-based interventions in healthcare from pilot to permanent benefits for Medi-Cal recipients. The bill, co-sponsored by SPUR and the San Francisco Food as Medicine Collaborative and supported by more than 75 organizations from across the state, received strong bipartisan support in the Assembly Health Committee but was ultimately held in Assembly Appropriations. Capital and Main wrote in-depth coverage of the bill. Assembly Member Bonta is committed to championing this important issue in the coming legislative session.