SPUR Sponsors State Housing and Transportation Legislation

California State Capitol

Photo of the California State Capitol by Sergio Ruiz


SPUR is co-sponsoring a number of state bills this year, with a focus on designing safer streets and addressing California’s housing affordability and availability crisis. Our informal statewide coalition, the California Home Building Alliance, is supporting bills such as Senator Scott Wiener’s SB 937, which would lower the cost to finance and build new housing through provisions such as moving payment of development impact fees to the date the certificate of occupancy is issued. The alliance is also supporting Senator Nancy Skinner’s SB 1211 to expand the number of accessory dwelling units allowed on multifamily properties.

While we will advocate for many pieces of legislation this year, this article takes a look at bills that SPUR is co-sponsoring or providing technical assistance on.


Prioritizing Safety and Transit on State Highways

Two-thirds of all deaths in urbanized areas occur on state-owned arterial roads — roads such as Van Ness Boulevard (State Route 101) in San Francisco, International Boulevard (State Route 185) in Oakland, and El Camino Real (State Route 82) in San José. Furthermore, California has one of the highest rates of fatalities and serious injuries for people walking and biking per capita — a number that has only increased since the pandemic, according to a report by Smart Growth America. That is because streets are designed to allow cars to move quickly, rather than to allow all people to move safely.

Senator Scott Wiener has introduced SB 960 to make California’s state highways safer by design. SB 960 directs Caltrans, the agency responsible for building and maintaining state-owned highways and bridges, to build “complete streets” facilities when it makes investments in maintaining parts of the state-owned highway system that act as urban arterials, major transit corridors, and, sometimes, main streets. This “dig once” approach is a cost-effective best practice to building out a more complete and connected system that supports mobility for people of all ages and abilities with elements such as bike and bus lanes, pedestrian crossings, and curb extensions.

SPUR is a co-sponsor of SB 960, alongside CalBike, StreetsforAll, KidsafeSF, and AARP.


Making Development Impact Fees More Transparent and Predictable

Development impact fees can make up nearly 20% of the cost of a new housing unit and are often hard to predict, which can deter construction. Assemblymember Pilar Schiavo has introduced AB 1820 to authorize housing project proponents who have submitted preliminary building applications to request a good-faith estimate of all fees and exactions that would apply to their project. The local jurisdiction would then be required to provide an itemized list and total sum amount of all fees within 20 business days. The legislation would also require a jurisdiction to provide development proponents with the final itemized list and sum total amount of all fees and exactions within 20 business days of the project’s final approval.

AB 1820 will create greater development impact fee cost transparency and predictability in the permitting process and is based on a recommendation in SPUR’s May 2021 policy brief “How Much Does It Cost to Permit a House?

The bill is co-sponsored by SPUR, the California Building Industry Association, and California YIMBY.


Providing Certainty for Builder’s Remedy Project Applications

State housing element laws ensure there is a sufficient supply of properly zoned sites for residential development in cities and counties to accommodate the housing needs of California’s population over time. To solve the housing affordability and availability crisis, all cities and counties must follow the law and adopt housing elements that are certified by the state. In fact, the state takes this process so seriously that it made the housing element the only element of a city’s general plan that it must review.

But in the most recent housing element certification process, some jurisdictions claimed to “self-certify” their housing element and made findings to challenge the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) determination that their housing element was not in compliance with state law as a way to reject so-called Builder’s Remedy project applications. This provision of the Housing Accountability Act, first enacted in 1990, allows projects to move forward when a local jurisdiction is out of compliance with state housing element law. It allows applications for housing development projects to bypass most local land use and zoning as long as 20% of the units are affordable to lower-income households or 100% of the units are affordable to moderate-income households.

Assemblymember David Alvarez has introduced AB 1886, a good government measure, to clarify that, for the purposes of the Builder’s Remedy, a housing element or amendment can only be declared in compliance by HCD or by a court of competent jurisdiction.

In early March, after AB 1886 was introduced, a court found that cities cannot certify their own housing elements, a ruling that the legislation will codify.

The bill is co-sponsored by SPUR and the California Building Industry Association.


Applying State Density Bonus Law in the Coastal Zone

Over the past several years, the California State Legislature has passed many measures to address the housing affordability and availability crisis by facilitating housing production. Most of these laws have exempted the state’s Coastal Zone, with the intention of protecting coastal resources. However, there is now a growing consensus in the legislature and among advocates that this approach is not equitable: coastal communities are some of the most expensive, exclusive, and segregated in the state, and the local workforce is suffering greatly.

The Coastal Zone includes urbanized and already developed parcels inland from the beach where new housing is needed and would be appropriate, including areas in San Diego, Santa Monica, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Arcata, and Eureka.

Assemblymember David Alvarez has introduced AB 2560 to ensure that California’s Density Bonus Law applies in the Coastal Zone, as it does in the rest of the state, without uncertain approval and appeals processes that often undermine the law's intent and that can delay or derail mixed-income housing developments. Senator Scott Wiener is a coauthor.

The California State Legislature enacted the density bonus law several decades ago to ensure that affordable and mixed-income housing developments are feasible even in our state's highest-cost areas. Density bonuses are available only on sites that have already been zoned for residential use by the local jurisdiction and that do not endanger coastal resources.

The bill is co-sponsored by SPUR, Circulate San Diego, and the Bay Area Council.


Incentivizing Affordable Homeownership Through Condo Construction

Only about 3,000 condominiums are built each year in California; other states and provinces produce 10 times as many. Why? Developers and building contractors here face higher financial risk due to litigation from post-construction defect claims and high insurance costs. As a result, developers in California simply choose to build multifamily rental projects instead of for-sale projects that could create more affordable homeownership opportunities.

Although current law is supposed to allow developers to remedy defects prior to litigation, the pre-litigation process does not work in practice. Frequently, the builders are given insufficient time to return and make repairs, are not told what the defects are, and are unable to agree on a plan with the homeowner. In many cases, the homeowner rejects the builder’s repairs altogether.

As a result, litigation is common, and HOAs can effectively sue developers for construction defects prior to allowing the developer to make repairs. Under current law, developers are liable for defects in their condominium development up to 10 years following construction.

Now, more than 20 years after passage of SB 800 (Burton, 2002), we have ample evidence that the ”right to repair” law is not working as intended, and condominium production has plummeted in California.

SB 1470 by Senator Steve Glazer would create a true pre-litigation right to repair to resolve condominium construction defect claims. The legislation does not preclude litigation; it simply says that the right to repair should be pre-litigation. Although not a sponsor of this legislation, SPUR has provided technical assistance and research resources to Senator Glazer and his staff.


Expediting Interim Supportive Housing Communities for Those Facing Homelessness

Senator Josh Becker has introduced SB 1395 to facilitate development of interim supportive housing communities that provide safe, secure, and high-quality midterm housing solutions for people experiencing homelessness. These communities constitute a missing rung on the housing ladder: the one between temporary shelter and permanent affordable housing. SB 1395 builds this rung using a model already proven in San José, San Francisco, Rohnert Park, Santa Barbara, and other California cities.
SB 1395 clarifies that relocatable, single-room housing, which provides enhanced safety and privacy for residents, is eligible for streamlined approvals. In addition, it extends the sunset for existing streamlining authorities under the Shelter Crisis Act and AB 101 Low Barrier Navigation Centers laws to provide local governments with certainty that they can use these tools to address the homelessness crisis beyond 2025. Finally, the bill ensures that interim supportive housing is eligible for funding from state homelessness programs.

SB 1395 supports a compassionate and comprehensive system that can help people experiencing homelessness move out of dangerous makeshift encampments and into midterm housing communities while they wait for permanent housing opportunities to become available.

Co-sponsoring the bill with SPUR are DignityMoves, the Bay Area Council, and San José Mayor Matt Mahan.