Housing Production Legislation to Watch

Housing Production

The start of another legislative session is upon us. Last week at the outset of the 2021-2022 legislative session, several bills impacting housing production were introduced. Some are similar to bills that weren’t passed last year. Below are four bills to watch as they wind through the Legislature.

SB9 (Atkins, Caballero, Rubio, Wiener)

SB9 is a refresh of SB1120 from last session that would allow duplexes on most lots. SB9 requires cities to ministerially permit, i.e., without CEQA review or other discretionary reviews or hearings, two-unit development projects in single-family zoning districts. It would also allow single-family parcels to be subdivided into two lots if the parcel is located within an urbanized area or urbanized cluster and is: (i) not located within a historic district, (ii) not included in the State Historic Resources Inventory, or (iii) not within a site that is designated or listed as a city or county landmark/historic property/district.

SB1120 cleared the Assembly with only minutes left in the session, leaving too little time for it to return to the Senate for passage, which makes this year’s SB9 a bill to closely watch.

SB10 (Wiener)

Senator Wiener’s SB10 is a refresh of SB902 from last session that would allow—but not require—local governments to upzone qualified parcels for up to ten-unit apartment buildings. The allowance for streamlined upzoning would only apply in urbanized locations close to job-rich areas, which are defined as areas rich with jobs or would enable shorter commute distances, and/or transit rich areas, which are defined as areas within half a mile of a major transit stop. While SB10 creates a shortcut for upzoning, it does not provide for streamlined project approvals, i.e., projects within upzoned areas would remain subject to CEQA and other local approval processes. SB10 requires the Department of Housing and Community Development, in consultation with the Office of Planning and Research, to determine jobs-rich areas and publish a map of those areas by January 1, 2022.

SB30 (Cortese)

Senator Cortese’s SB30 would prohibit after January 1, 2022, the construction of a state building connected to the natural gas grid and prohibit state funding or other support for construction of residential and nonresidential buildings that are connected to the natural gas grid.

SB6 (Caballero, Eggman, Rubio)

SB6 is a second attempt to pass the Neighborhoods Homes Act that would override local prohibitions on residential uses on properties (no size limit) within any commercial zone, except where office uses and retail uses are not permitted or only permitted as an accessory use, that is not adjacent to an industrial use. Densities allowed fall into the range from 15 dwelling units/acre in rural areas to 30 dwelling units/acre in highly urbanized areas, with suburban areas allowing at least 20 dwelling units/acre. Housing development projects would still be subject to local zoning and parking controls, objective design review and permitting processes, and CEQA would be applicable. Projects taking advantage of the Neighborhoods Homes Act would be required to pay prevailing wages or use skilled and trained labor.

 

Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Justin A. Zucker.

The issues discussed in this update are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient.  Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein.  Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP is a full service real estate law firm.  We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law.  We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leasing, acquisitions and sales, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.

Reduce Exposure to Mechanics’ Liens

Notice of Completion

While contractors typically enjoy a 90-day period to file a Mechanic’s Lien once a project is completed, project owners in California can take steps to significantly shorten this deadline by recording a Notice of Completion (“Notice”).  The Notice gives written notice that an entire project is completed.  A Notice that is properly recorded and served benefits project owners in two main ways:

  1. Reduced project risk because contractors and subcontractors have less time to record a Mechanic’s Lien – which can result in filing of a mechanic’s lien foreclosure action; and
  2. Project owners can clear title more quickly, smoothing the way for post-construction loans and sales.

Mechanic’s Liens Can be Recorded as late as 90 Days After Project Completion:

Unless an owner records a Notice, contractors and subcontractors have 90 days to record a Mechanic’s Lien.  But, if a Notice is properly recorded, that 90-day period is shortened to 60 or 30 days.  The time period depends on whether a direct contractor performed the work:

  • A direct contractor has 60 days to file a Mechanic’s Lien after a project owner records a Notice of Completion.
  • Persons that are not direct contractors have 30 days to file a Mechanic’s Lien after a project owner records a Notice of Completion.

It is critical that a recorded Notice be served on each direct contractor, subcontractor, and material supplier who may have the right to record a mechanic’s lien against the project.  The Notice will only be effective if timely and validly served, so we recommend service via certified mail with a proof of notice declaration to establish service in the event of any dispute.

When is a Project Completed?

The date a project is completed is the moment the clock begins to run to record a Mechanic’s Lien or Notice.  Under the California Civil Code, a project is considered complete when any of the following occur:

  1. Actual completion;
  2. Labor stops and occupation or use by the owner occurs;
  3. Labor stops for a continuous period of 60 days; or
  4. Labor stops for a continuous period of 30 days, after which a notice of cessation is recorded.

Additionally, a project is considered completed at the time a public entity accepts the project.

In practice, the definition of actual completion has proved difficult to nail down.  Ordinarily, “completion” means that the entire project has been completed.  But this meaning does not give clear direction for the date a court would find a project legally completed.

Courts may also determine completion by looking at the substantiality of work performed after a project is presumed completed.  Where a contractor performs additional work under the construction contract, courts will tend to find the project was not previously completed.  Conversely, the project may be actually completed even if the contractor later corrects defects.  Factors like an issuance of a Final Certificate of Occupancy can serve as evidence of completion, but are not definitive proof.  Unfortunately, as the California Civil Code currently stands, the important definition of completion remains ambiguous.

Notice of Completion Timing

A Notice must be recorded and served within 15 days from the date a project is completed.  Though the definition of completion is nebulous (as discussed above), a Notice is considered valid if recorded and served within 15 days of the true project completion, even if it includes an erroneous completion date.

 

Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Law Clerk Kaitlin Sheber.

The issues discussed in this update are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient.  Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein.  Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP is a full service real estate law firm.  We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law.  We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leasing, acquisitions and sales, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.

Proposition H and New Processing for ADUs

Save Our Small Businesses Initiative

Proposition H Adopted by Voters

Proposition H was adopted by the voters at this November’s election.  Titled, “Save Our Small Businesses Initiative”, the initiative ordinance gives existing businesses more flexibility in their operations and speeds approvals for new businesses in the City’s Neighborhood Commercial (“NC”) Zoning Districts.  The initiative reduces the approval requirement for many uses from a conditional use authorization from the Planning Commission to an over-the-counter administrative approval.  Restrictions on office uses are relaxed.  The initiative eliminates neighborhood notification for changes to a principally permitted use and provides existing businesses with greater flexibility to adapt their operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and shifting retail landscape.  The initiative calls upon the City to streamline the approval for small businesses to 30 days.

In particular, the initiative provides as follows:

Neighborhood Notification

  • Eliminates neighborhood notification for new principally permitted uses in Neighborhood Commercial Districts, for Limited Commercial Uses, and for Limited Corner Commercial Uses. These change of use permits can now be approved over-the-counter.

Permitted Uses

  • In all NC Districts except for the Mission Street NC, 24th Street-Mission NC, and SOMA NC, more principally permitted and conditionally permitted uses are now allowed:
    • Non-Retail Sales and Services (e.g., office uses) are principally permitted on upper floors and permitted with a conditional use authorization on the ground floor.
    • General Entertainment, Movie Theaters, Community Facilities, Restaurants, Limited Restaurants, Animal Hospitals, and Retail Professional Services (e.g., realtors, accountants, insurance agents) are now principally permitted where currently permitted with a conditional use authorization, and conditionally permitted where currently not permitted. Restaurant controls were not changed in the North Beach Special Use District, where a conditional use authorization is required and any new restaurant may only occupy a space where the last use was a restaurant.
    • Arts Activities and Social Service or Philanthropic Facilities are now principally permitted on all floors.
    • Formula retail controls (conditional use authorization required) were not changed by the initiative.

Approval Process

  • Requires the creation of a streamlined review and inspection process for principally permitted storefront uses in NC Districts with a target approval in 30 days or less. The City is in the process of implementing these new procedures;
  • Requires that in cases of City error, permits to remedy that error be prioritized and have fees waived;
  • Establishes policy to allow restaurant table service within parklets in addition to the existing use of parklets by any member of the public; and
  • Locks-in the initiative’s provisions for 3 years from passage, except to further relax restrictions.

Processing ADU Applications Moves to Planning

In an effort to ease the administrative burden on DBI and hasten the approval of ADUs, the City has shifted the intake and processing of ADU applications from DBI to the Planning Department.  This includes new applications for ADUs and work related to ADU construction, such as expansions required for an ADU, excavations required for an ADU, new construction for a detached ADU, and interior remodel work to create independent access to the ADU.

Applications consist of the standard Planning Department Project Application, the ADU checklist form, the ADU screening form, a fixture count form for the PUC, and a pdf of the project plans.  Applications are submitted online at a new, easy-to-use website just for ADUs.  The application can be a full building permit or a site permit with addenda.

Once the application is submitted, Planning will send the applicant a confirmation email with the planning application number.  Planning’s Property Information Map (PIM) will provide updates about the application.  It will take one day for the record to appear in the PIM.  A planner will email the applicant about next steps within 14 business days.  The application still will be routed as before to other City agencies having jurisdiction over the proposed work for review, including DBI.

Once the permit is approved, Planning will coordinate with the applicant to verify their licensed contractor information and pay the fees.  Planning will email the job card to start construction.

For questions or assistance, email the Planning Department.

 

 

Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Thomas P. Tunny.

The issues discussed in this update are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient.  Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein.  Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP is a full service real estate law firm.  We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law.  We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leasing, acquisitions and sales, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.

California Increases Density Bonus to 50%

density bonus

Starting in 2021, residential projects in California with on-site affordable housing can get a density bonus of up to 50%.  Currently, under Government Code Section 65915—commonly known as the Density Bonus Law—the maximum bonus is 35%.  It is available for projects that include 11% very low income below market rate (“BMR”) units, 20% low income BMRs, or 40% moderate income BMRs.  Under a new law that flew somewhat under the radar during the last legislative session in Sacramento, a 50% bonus is available with increased affordability.  Specifically, 15% very low income, 24% low income, or 44% moderate income allow the full 50% bonus.

The new state law, AB 2345, requires cities and counties to comply even if they have not yet updated local implementing ordinances.  This means starting January 1, 2021, all jurisdictions in California are required to process projects proposing up to 50% additional density as long as those projects provide the additional BMRs in the “base” portion of the project, unless the locality already allows a bonus above 35%.

AB 2345 also lowered the BMR thresholds for concessions and incentives for projects with low income BMRs.  For background, in addition to waivers from development controls that preclude a project from achieving the density bonus it is guaranteed (with some narrow exceptions) in exchange for on-site BMRs, the Density Bonus Law allows sponsors to ask for “concessions and incentives” from zoning and development regulations that would make the project more expensive to construct.  Starting in 2021, projects with 17% low income BMRs can qualify for two concessions or incentives, and projects with 24% low income BMRs can qualify for three.

Finally, density bonus projects within one-half mile of a major transit stop and with direct access to the stop may be able to avoid minimum parking requirements.

All-Electric New Construction in San Francisco Starting in June 2021

On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a law mandating new construction projects be all-electric.  The building or project will need to use a permanent supply of electricity as the source of energy for all space conditioning including heating and cooling, water heating, pools and spas, cooking appliances, and clothes drying appliances.  Gas or propane piping systems are not permitted from the point of delivery at the gas meter.

The all-electric requirement takes effect on June 1, 2021.  Starting then, all new building or site permit applications will need to comply.  Sponsors should keep in mind there is currently a multi-month delay to file permits at the Department of Building Inspection (“DBI”), and should not wait until the last minute to get their building or site permits on file.

There are two minor exceptions.  If it would be physically or technically infeasible to construct an all-electric building, DBI can grant modifications, but only to those portions of the building where infeasibility can be demonstrated, and the alternative design provides equivalent health, safety, and fire protection.  Importantly, financial considerations cannot be used to show infeasibility.

Also, a restaurant is allowed to have gas facilities used exclusively for cooking equipment.  For permits filed through December 31, 2021, permits identifying a restaurant use will be allowed to have gas facilities.  After 2021, the exception is narrowed and DBI has to determine that the gas system is necessary for the specific restaurant using the space.  Identifying a specific restaurant tenant that early in the process will likely be a challenge for many new construction projects.

 

Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Mark Loper.

The issues discussed in this update are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient.  Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein.  Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP is a full service real estate law firm.  We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law.  We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leasing, acquisitions and sales, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.

Task Force Recommends Fee and Permit Changes

Task Force

There are few cities that have not been negatively impacted by COVID-19.  Since March, San Francisco and the surrounding cities have been largely shut down, with businesses opening in a staggered manner based on infection and death rates.  Nonessential office workers remain at home.  Seven months into this “new normal”, a number of studies and reports have been issued, analyzing the impact the virus has had on the local economy.  Without a doubt, San Francisco appears to have been hit particularly hard, as more and more companies are allowing employees to work remotely, many through July 2021.  The result is an empty business district and what appears to be an exodus of residents from the City.  The lack of office employees working and residing in the City has had a drastic effect on the economy.  A few key statistics:[1]

  • 1% office vacancy rate in Q3
  • 43% decline in sales tax receipts from April to June as compared to 2019
  • 65% decrease in sales at restaurants and bars and consumer goods stores
  • 50%+ storefronts are not operating as of August 2020
  • 1% increase in online sales tax receipts

Recognizing that the City was facing a looming financial crisis, Mayor Breed and Board President Yee convened a task force – the Economic Recovery Task Force – in the spring to advise the City and provide recommendations to support the recovery efforts from COVID-19.  Consisting of over 100 members, the Task Force received 1000 surveys and conducted an additional 900 interviews with residents and business owners in San Francisco.  The Task Force issued its final report on October 8th, listing 41 recommendations ranging from economic stimulus to safe reopening guidelines.

Several of the recommendations focus on the real estate and construction industry.  Construction is a revenue-generator for San Francisco: in addition to bringing in permit and impact fees, statistics show that each $1 million spending in construction translates into approximately 5.93 jobs.  While a recession often leads to a significant slowdown in construction, San Francisco has not seen the resulting stoppage, largely due to projects that were already underway.  However, falling rents and sales prices, high construction costs, and broad economic uncertainty have resulted in developers unable to secure financing for their projects and a slowdown in development projects breaking ground.

The Task Force makes the following recommendations relating to development in San Francisco:

  1. Focus on the major development projects and public infrastructure investments

The Task Force recognizes that there are already many projects that could boost construction – ones that have already received approvals and/or been identified by the City.  The City recently underwent a major rezoning in Central SoMa, with several large projects approved.  In addition, there are several significant long-term projects underway on SF Port property.  Further, the City’s last 10-year Capital plan allocated $39 billion in investments from 2020-2029.

The Task Force calls for the City to continue focusing on its major developments, such as the Shipyard, Mission Rock, Pier 70, Treasure Island, and Central SoMa, as these projects bring with them thousands of jobs and support for local business.  They also call for an update to the City’s Capital plan, focusing on projects that promote good state of repair for its buildings, right-of-way, public spaces, and other infrastructure assets.  If these projects can begin (or continue) construction within the next year, then it would provide needed jobs for the construction industry while developing spaces for the eventual reopening of the City.

  1. “Redesign” the building permit processes and consider an application fee “holiday” or reduction to incentivize permits

The Task Force calls for the overhaul of the City’s permit processes – not a new idea but one that has gained traction over the past months.  The Task Force calls out DBI, Fire Department, SFPUC, and Planning, as agencies that should implement programmatic and regulatory changes to redesign the permitting process, increase transparency, make the permitting process as easy and affordable as possible, and to remove permitting and process requirements not directly related to health and safety.

The Task Force also calls for an application fee “holiday” – a temporary reduction or elimination of fees – that would incentivize owners (both business and residential) and developers to pull permits and undertake construction projects.

  1. Allow for the deferral of Development Impact Fees

Development Impact Fees are imposed on certain projects that will cause an increase in demand of public services, infrastructure, and housing.  Impact fees are imposed at project approval and collected at the issuance of the first construction document, often several years before a development receives its certificate of occupancy.  The City has implemented fee deferral programs before, most notably in 2010-2013 during the Great Recession, as well as 2019’s fee waiver for 100% affordable housing projects and Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs).

The Task Force recommends that the Planning Department develop another fee deferral program for a limited time that would allow developers to defer paying impact fees until each project receives the first certificate of occupancy, at the end of construction, rather than at issuance of first construction document.  This would help developers secure financing on projects that would likely not be able to break ground and pay impact fees otherwise.

These three recommendations are a few of the 41 that address the financial impacts of COVID-19.  Any application fee reductions, impact fee deferrals, or other fee “holidays” will require legislation by the Board of Supervisors.  Application fees are imposed for the reasonable regulatory costs to a local government for issuing licenses and permits, performing investigations, inspections and audits, and the administrative enforcement and adjudication.  Simply put, the application fees charged go back into the City’s General Fund and are used to maintain City services and agency functions and for employee salaries.  According to the 2020-2021 City Budget, Planning experienced a decrease in application and permit volume of 10% – numbers that have likely increased due to COVID-19.  Reduction in applications results in a budget shortfall, impacting the City’s ability to review projects and permits.  Impact fees are used to create new affordable housing, build infrastructure projects such as parks, bike lanes, and street improvements, and fund new childcare facilities, to name a few areas where the fees are allocated.  These fees are integral to the City’s major improvement projects outlined in the first recommendation above.  The Board of Supervisors will have to balance these concerns when considering whether and how to implement the Task Force’s recommendations.

It is unclear at the date of this writing whether the Mayor’s Office or Board of Supervisors will seek legislation to reduce, eliminate, or defer application and impact fees.  Reuben, Junius, & Rose, LLP will continue to monitor these recommendations.

[1] Recovery Task Force Report, October 2020, City and County of San Francisco/OneSF, pgs. 16 – 19.

 

Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Tara Sullivan.

The issues discussed in this update are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient.  Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein.  Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP is a full service real estate law firm.  We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law.  We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leasing, acquisitions and sales, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.

Central SoMa Clean Up Legislation Moves Forward

SoMa

Last week, the San Francisco Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of legislation that would “clean up” parts of the Administrative and Planning Code that were previously amended in connection with the Central SoMa Area Plan.

The Central SoMa Area Plan was the result of a multi-year planning effort which rezoned much of a 230-acre area adjacent to downtown and surrounding the future Central Subway extension along 4th Street, which is scheduled to begin operating in 2021.  The Plan is anticipated to generate nearly 16 million square feet of new housing and commercial space, and over $2 billion dollars in public benefits.

As described in the Planning Department’s staff report, this “clean up” legislation would correct “grammatical and syntactical errors, un-intentional cross-references and accidental additions and deletions,” associated with the original Plan legislation adopted in 2018.  However, there are also a few substantive amendments proposed, along with clean-up items that have the potential to affect pending and future development throughout the Plan area.

Among other things, the legislation would:

  • Require an operations and maintenance strategy for all required Privately Owned Public Open Spaces (POPOS) in the Plan area. This strategy would need to be approved by the Director of Planning prior to approval of a site or building permit for the associated project;
  • Provide that the Central SoMa PDR requirement applies to projects that increase a building’s square footage by 20% and result in 50,000 gsf of office space along with new construction projects that result in 50,000 gsf of office space;
  • Revise lot coverage requirements for residential uses in the Central SoMa SUD to reflect that all floor levels with residential space (including accessory residential spaces such as common rooms) would be limited to 80% lot coverage, except for floors whose only “residential” space is common lobbies and circulation. 100% lot coverage would be permitted at floors where residential units are located within 40 feet of a street-facing property line.  Further, projects with applications submitted on or prior to July 1, 2020 would be grandfathered from the proposed lot coverage amendments;
  • Clarify and correct which sides of narrow streets in Central SoMa are subject to solar plane setback and bulk reduction sky plane requirements;
  • Provide that buildings that are taller than would otherwise be allowed in a given height district are to follow the sky plane bulk reduction requirements of the height district that is most aligned with the height of the building;
  • Require that funds collected through the BMR in-lieu fee from Central SoMa projects be spent in the greater SoMa area;
  • Clarify that payment of an in-lieu fee for modifications or exceptions from open space requirements is only applicable where the exception or modification is granted to reduce the amount of open space provided, but not in cases where the exception is only related to design standards of the open space;
  • Provide that funds collected through the Central SoMa Community Facilities fee can be spent in the greater SoMa area, and not limited to the Central SoMa Special Use District;
  • Expand the types of infrastructure projects that can be funded through the Central SoMa Infrastructure Fee;
  • Allow project sponsors to meet part of their usable open space requirements off-site at a greater distance from the principal projects than initially proposed, particularly by enabling projects to build open space under and around the I-80 freeway within the Central SoMa Special Use District; and
  • Provide an exception allowing for certain retail to be provided in lieu of a portion of the PDR requirement in connection with development of a Key Site at the northeast corner of 5th and Brannan Streets.

An additional amendment was initially proposed that would have expanded application of certain development impact fees in Central SoMa.  However, that amendment was removed from the legislation at the request of the Commission.

This Central SoMa legislation will be introduced to the Board of Supervisors within the next few weeks.  It will then be held for 30 days before assignment to the Board’s Land Use and Transportation Committee for review and possible amendments, before it’s presented to the full Board for approval.

 

Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Melinda Sarjapur.

The issues discussed in this update are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient.  Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein.  Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP is a full service real estate law firm.  We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law.  We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leasing, acquisitions and sales, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.

Prop. 21 – Another Attempted Costa-Hawkins Takedown

Costa-Hawkins

This November, California voters will be asked for the second time in as many years to overturn statewide restrictions on rent control in the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act (“Costa Hawkins”). The following provides a summary of Proposition 21, named by its proponents as the Rent Affordability Act (“Prop. 21”), and its potential implications for residential landlords and tenants in California.

Prop. 10 and Costa-Hawkins

Its predecessor, Proposition 10, was rejected by nearly 60% of voters in 2018. It would have repealed Costa-Hawkins and allowed local governments to adopt rent control on any type of rental housing.  Costa-Hawkins, passed in 1995, allows local governments to enact and use rent control, except on (a) housing that was first occupied after February 1, 1995, and (b) certain classes of housing units, such as condominiums, townhouses, and single-family homes.  Landlords protected by Costa-Hawkins are currently allowed to increase rent to market rates when a tenant vacates a unit.

Prop. 21

If approved by voters, Prop. 21 would allow local governments to adopt rent control on housing units, except for (a) housing first occupied within the last fifteen (15) years and (b) units owned by natural persons who own no more than two (2) housing units with separate titles, such as single-family homes, condominiums, and certain duplexes, or subdivided interests, such as community apartment projects and stock cooperatives.  Prop. 21 would continue to allow local limits on annual rent increases to be more restrictive than the current statewide limit.  For vacancies where the previous tenant voluntarily vacated, abandoned or was lawfully evicted from a dwelling unit, Prop. 21 would impose, over the first three (3) years of a new tenancy, a combined rent increase cap of fifteen percent (15%) from the rental rate in effect for the immediately preceding tenancy.  This three-year rent increase cap would be in addition to any rent increases otherwise authorized by local law.

Tenant Protection Act of 2019

Prop. 21 follows the January 2020 roll-out of the Tenant Protection Act of 2019, which enacted a statewide rent control cap on annual rent increases of five percent (5%) plus the percentage change in the Consumer Price Index or ten percent (10%), whichever is lower.  The Tenant Protection Act of 2019, while considered to provide among the strongest state-implemented rent increase caps and renter protections in the country, does not affect vacancy decontrol, meaning landlords are currently able to set initial rents for new tenancies.  If passed, Prop. 21 would effectively foreclose the ability of landlords now protected by Costa-Hawkins to set initial rents at market rates if it would result in more than a fifteen percent (15%) increase from the prior tenant’s rental rate.

Support of Prop. 21

Proponents of Prop. 21 contend that the measure would provide more financial security for renters, reduce homelessness, and help alleviate a statewide housing affordability crisis.  The Prop. 21 campaign is sponsored by the Aids Healthcare Foundation, and notable supporters include Senator Bernie Sanders, House Representative Maxine Waters, the California Democratic Party, and the ACLU of southern California.

Opposition to Prop. 21

Opponents of Prop. 21 posit the proposed statutory changes would hurt renters by discouraging private sector builders from bringing more affordable housing units to market and diminish property values, resulting in less revenue for communities.  Californians for Responsible Housing is leading the campaign in opposition to this initiative, with other opponents including Governor Gavin Newsom, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association, California NAACP State Conference, and Congress of California Seniors.

Votes Needed to Pass

For Prop. 21 to pass and become state law, greater than fifty percent (50%) of the votes cast for this proposition must vote “yes”.

 

Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Michael Corbett.

The issues discussed in this update are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient.  Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein.  Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP is a full service real estate law firm.  We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law.  We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leasing, acquisitions and sales, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.

Real Estate Tax Update

Tax

Deadline to File Real Estate Tax Appeals for the 2020/2021 Tax Year

For property owners that disagree with their property valuation for the 2020/2021 tax year, the deadline to file an appeal is Tuesday, September 15, 2020. For property located in other counties, owners should check with the local Assessment Appeals Board. Unfortunately, these appeals would relate to the property value as of January 1, 2020, so the economic impact of Covid-19 is not likely to be considered. If you have questions about this, please contact Kevin Rose at krose@reubenlaw.com.

Commercial Properties May Lose Proposition 13 Protection

After many years of planning and political maneuvering, the opponents of Proposition 13 have settled on a ballot initiative, Proposition 15 (also known as the “Split Tax Roll”), to drastically overhaul California’s property tax structure. Proposition 13 is California’s landmark law, embedded in the Constitution that protects owners from increases in real estate taxes in excess of two percent per year. As a compromise to help ensure passage, residential property would be exempt from the tax increase.

The Basics

If passed in this November’s general election, Proposition 15 would require commercial and industrial properties to be reassessed every three years at the full fair market value of the property, as determined by County Assessors. This new assessment would be used to calculate property taxes based on the statutory tax rate, which is also limited to 1% by Proposition 13 and would remain unchanged. There would be no limit on reassessment, so many property owners could experience significant increases in real property taxes. This would wipe out the ability of property owners to plan for stable property tax increases of no more than 2% per year, and authorize County Assessors to exercise their discretion in determining the “fair market value” of real estate. Residential property, including multi-family structures (apartments), is specifically excluded from reassessment, as is commercial agricultural property.

Why Increase Taxes?

The proponents of Proposition 15 argue that commercial and industrial properties are underassessed and avoid over $11 Billion in local property taxes, which should be used to support schools, local governments and affordable housing. Advocates cite an unnamed University of California study claiming that such reassessment of commercial property will have a “net positive benefit” on jobs and the California economy. There was little discussion in the findings about the potential impact on tenants of commercial properties due to higher rents and expense pass throughs, other than the deferment for properties with at least 50% small business occupancy, discussed below. The opposition argues that this is the first step in completely dismantling Proposition 13.

The Process and Procedures for Reassessment

Starting with the 2022-2023 tax year, each County Assessor would be tasked with reassessing commercial and industrial properties to determine the value for property tax purposes. This process would be phased in over two years. Proposition 15 requires the creation of a task force comprised of different interests to recommend the statutory and regulatory details for implementation. Taxpayers would be given a “reasonable” timeframe during which to pay any tax increases. Such time frame is not defined and would have to be determined by the Legislature.

Proposition 15 imposes the burden of proof on the taxpayer with regard to any valuation disputes. Under current law, escape assessments (assessments for tax years later than the tax year the reassessment event occurred) or increased assessments due to change of ownership that are different than the purchase price require the Assessor to prove that the reassessment is justified. Property owners will likely be concerned that, due to political pressure to increase revenues, the Assessor will favor increases in value when there is any conflicting or disputed information. Local assessment appeal boards will almost certainly see a major increase in real estate tax appeals.

Some Properties Worth $3M or Less May Be Excluded

Small property owners are exempt from future reassessments if their property is worth $3 Million or less, but only after one reassessment under Proposition 15. This $3 Million threshold would be adjusted every two years for inflation, starting in 2025. This exception excludes “wealthy” property owners. This means if any owners of such low value property also own other property worth more than $3 Million, then the exception would not apply. The taxpayer has the burden of making this claim with the applicable County Assessor. The decision of County Assessors with regard to these exceptions are deemed to be final, and not subject to appeal to the local assessment appeals board, and judicial review of this exception is limited to “abuse of discretion.”

Small Business Temporary Exception

Properties that are used primarily (50% or more) for a small business, are exempt from reassessment, but only until 2025-2026. Small businesses are simply defined as businesses with less than 50 full time employees, provided that such business owns real property in California (not necessarily the same property) and is independently owned and operated. It is unclear if franchises are excluded, but it seems that the intent is to exclude franchise businesses from the exception.

The Personal Property Tax Exemption

As an incentive to the business community for support (apparently focusing on technology companies), up to $500,000 of tangible personal property and fixtures are exempt from taxation. This excludes airlines and boats. Also, small businesses (as defined above) would be fully exempt from taxation of personal property.

Use of Funds and Administration

Proposition 15 requires that all funds generated by these tax increases be distributed to community colleges (11%) and to school districts, charter schools and county offices of education (89%). There are complicated formulas and reporting requirements included as part of the administrative provisions. Each county and city is required to be compensated for additional costs incurred due to implementation of the reassessment requirements. Apparently, the payments are from the general fund, not the new tax revenues. The spending limitations in the California Constitution would not include any revenue generated by Proposition 15.

The Fight

While normally any proposed change to Proposition 13 would be highly contested, Covid-19, social unrest and the divisive presidential election may limit the publicity and focus on Proposition 15. The California Democratic Party, Bernie Sanders, and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors support Proposition 15. Opponents include the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, The California Business Roundtable, the NAACP, and the California Business Properties Association. According to Ballotpedia, Proposition 15 had a 6% lead in the polls as of April 2020, with a 3% margin of error. Typically, new taxes need a large lead prior to the election as many voters become skittish when actually voting. It will be interesting to see how the voters feel about increasing taxes during recessionary times.

 

Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Kevin H. Rose.

The issues discussed in this update are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient.  Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein.  Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP is a full service real estate law firm.  We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law.  We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leasing, acquisitions and sales, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.

A Handful of San Francisco Planning Updates

Planning

Final Passage of UMU Office Legislation

Back in February, we covered Supervisor Ronen’s proposal to substantially limit office uses within Urban Mixed Use (“UMU”) districts. You can revisit our prior update here. As originally introduced, the legislation would have prohibited office use on the upper floors throughout the UMU district (where currently permitted), and would have maintained exceptions for qualifying landmark buildings. The first version of the legislation also proposed allowing limited professional service, financial service, and medical service uses that serve the general public at the ground floor, but only with approval of a Conditional Use Authorization from the Planning Commission.

The Board of Supervisors finally passed that legislation on August 11, 2020 with a major substantive change—limiting the prohibition of general office use to the Mission Area Plan portion of the UMU district.

As approved, the legislation provides that in the Mission Area Plan portion of the UMU district, general office uses not in a landmark building are prohibited outright. Professional service, financial service, and medical service uses are prohibited above the ground floor, but are permitted on the ground floor with a conditional use authorization if primarily open to the general public on a client-oriented basis.

Office uses within the UMU district that are not within the Mission Area Plan remain subject to the vertical controls that apply currently. And outside the Mission Area Plan, professional service, financial service, and medical service uses are permitted on the ground floor if primarily open to the general public on a client-oriented basis, and are permitted on upper floors subject to vertical controls.

The final legislation can be reviewed here.

Conditional Use Streamlining Ordinance

In other San Francisco legislative news, the Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance on Tuesday in an effort to streamline the Conditional Use process for certain types of commercial uses. At that hearing, Supervisor Peskin also requested that the file be duplicated and sent back to committee to allow an opportunity for community groups to weigh in on the changes.

Under the new ordinance, applications that are eligible for streamlining are entitled to a Planning Commission hearing within 90 days from the date the Planning Department deems the application complete and such projects would be calendared for approval via the Planning Commission’s consent calendar. Projects eligible for the program would also be eligible for a reduced application fee—at a rate of 50% of the otherwise applicable fee.

The Planning Commission is entitled to a one-time extension of the 90-day hearing deadline. An extension cannot be for more than 60 days and can only be issued for one of the following three reasons:

  1. The Planning Director or the Director’s designee requests in writing that the item be removed from the Commission’s consent calendar;
  2. Any member of the Planning Commission requests that the item be removed from the Commission’s consent calendar; or
  3. Any neighborhood organization (included on a Planning Department neighborhood organizations list) submits a letter of opposition or written request that the item be removed from the Commission’s consent calendar.

In order to qualify for the streamlining program, a project must comply with the following criteria: 1) propose non-residential use only; 2) be limited to interior or store-front work; 3) not involve a formula retail use; 4) not involve the removal of any dwelling units; 5) not propose the consolidation of multiple storefronts; 6) not seek additional off-street parking, or the expansion or intensification of hours of use, beyond those principally permitted; 7) not involve the sale of alcoholic beverages except for beer or wine sold in conjunction with a Bona Fide Eating Place; and 8) not seek to establish or expand an adult entertainment use, bar, drive-up facility, fringe financial service, medical cannabis dispensary, nighttime entertainment, non-retail sales and service closed to the public, a tobacco paraphernalia establishment, or a wireless communication facility. Projects within the Calle 24 Special Use District would also not be eligible for the streamlining program.

New Application Fee Schedule

On August 31, the Planning Department’s application fee schedule for 2020-2021 will go into effect. Application fees are adjusted annually based on the consumer price index. The 2020-2021 fee schedule preview is available here.

 

Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Chloe Angelis.

The issues discussed in this update are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient.  Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein.  Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP is a full service real estate law firm.  We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law.  We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leasing, acquisitions and sales, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.

Oakland Entitlement Extensions, Is California Next?

Housing Entitlement

On July 27, 2020, Oakland City Administrator, Edward D. Reiskin executed Emergency Order No. 6 extending planning entitlements that have not expired as of March 9, 2020 (when Oakland’s COVID-19 Local Emergency was first declared), but are set to expire on or before August 1, 2022, by two (2) years. A project sponsor must submit a ministerial application and payment of the Administrative Extension Fee for an entitlement extension. Upon satisfaction of those requirements, the entitlement’s expiration date will automatically be extended by two (2) years. Emergency Order No. 6 does not cover entitlements eligible for extension under the city’s impact fee programs for Jobs/Housing, Affordable Housing, and Transportation and Capital Improvements.

If this sounds familiar to you, it is. In the wake of the nation’s last recession, Oakland enacted an extension of all non-expired entitlements. At that time, Oakland was grappling with a continuing weak housing and credit market.

Even prior to the pandemic, California was in the midst of a housing crisis. For years, demand has outpaced supply at all income levels. The economic fallout from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is ripping through the country. The extent of its lasting impacts are yet to be determined. To alleviate pressure in the housing sector exacerbated by the pandemic, State Senator Scott Wiener has introduced Senate Bill 281 (“SB 281”). SB 281 would automatically extend the period for expiration of a housing entitlement issued before and in effect on March 4, 2020, and expiring before December 31, 2021, by eighteen (18) months. A housing entitlement is defined as, among other things, a “legislative, adjudicative, administrative, or any other kind of approval, permit, or other entitlement necessary for, or pertaining to, a housing development project issued by a state agency” and “[a]n approval, permit, or other entitlement by a local agency for a housing development project.”

In a nod to the ever-present threat of litigation and the weaponization of CEQA often employed to stymie housing projects, the bill’s authors include a tolling provision. If passed, the 18-month entitlement extension would be tolled during any time that the housing entitlement is the subject of legal challenge.

The authors of SB 281 seek a statewide entitlement extension to avoid the significant cost and allocation of local government staff resources associated with addressing individual permit extensions on a case-by-case basis. This makes sense. Under Oakland’s entitlement extension, a project sponsor must submit an application that, while ministerial, still requires administrative resources to process. Having an automatic entitlement extension would reduce cities’ administrative burdens at a time when their limited funds are drying up and tax bases are shrinking.

We will continue to monitor SB 281, and will update readers accordingly.

 

Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Justin A. Zucker.

The issues discussed in this update are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient.  Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein.  Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP is a full service real estate law firm.  We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law.  We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leasing, acquisitions and sales, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.