Cars to Casas Nearing Adoption

housing

Approximately a year ago we reported on Mayor London Breed’s introduction of the “Cars to Casas” legislation which proposed to make it easier to build housing on existing parking lots, gas stations and properties improved with certain other automotive uses.  The legislation has now been rebranded as “Automotive Uses to Housing Uses” and made significant progress in the last two weeks with a positive recommendation from the Land Use and Transportation Committee on Monday, December 5th, and unanimous votes at the full Board of Supervisors on first reading on Tuesday, December 6th and on second and final reading on Tuesday, December 13th.  The legislation will be forwarded next to the Mayor for her signature, and if signed, will become effective 30 days thereafter.

The legislation has been pending since October 2021, in part due to the Land Use and Transportation Committee’s request for an economic analysis.  If adopted, the legislation will eliminate a conditional use authorization requirement that currently applies to conversion of existing gas station uses, and would create an exception to the permitted residential density at eligible sites.  Sites that are eligible under the legislation are those that are currently used for auto-oriented uses, allow residential uses as a principally permitted use but do not currently contain any residential uses, and have not had a Legacy Business on the site within four years prior to the application submittal date.

As proposed, including amendments by the Land Use and Transportation Committee, the legislation will not apply to any properties that are zoned for the RM (Residential-Mixed) or RC (Residential-Commercial) district, or to properties that are located in a historic district.

The permitted residential density for RH (Residential-House) districts is up to four units per lot, and for all other eligible sites density is unlimited provided the project complies with applicable height, bulk, setback and other Planning Code requirements.  That said, eligible sites can also utilize the state density bonus program, which can allow waivers and concessions from otherwise applicable Planning Code requirements.

The legislation is one example of efforts by Mayor Breed and the City to make it easier to build more housing and to get entitlements and permits for development proposals, and as such, a welcome proposal.  If the legislation is signed by the Mayor in the next 10 days, it will become effective in approximately mid-January 2023.

 

Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Tuija Catalano.

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.

PDR Protections & Higher Fees for Large Institutions in Housing Element Package

PDR

San Francisco’s Housing Element Update (“Update”) has been in the works since mid-2020, and the City is sprinting to adopt it before a January 2023 deadline that could open the door to Builder’s Remedy Projects and eventually a loss of state funding for affordable housing and transportation. (See Exhibit D to the Planning Department’s Update Initiation Memo).

The Update’s primary focus is to spur residential construction to meet the state-mandated RHNA target of 82,000 new homes over eight years and to shift more housing development – especially affordable housing – to transit corridors on the westside.

However, through “conforming amendments” to other elements of the City’s General Plan, the City sets the stage for new restrictions on the conversion or displacement of existing Production, Distribution, and Repair (“PDR”) or Industrial uses. It also targets large institutions – one of the sectors where in-person activity tends to be higher in the era of hybrid work – for new development impact fees.

Two of these amendments are shown below.  For each item, text from the existing General Plan is shown in plain text; proposed additions to the General Plan are underlined.

Air Quality Element:

Policy 3.3: Continue existing city policies that require housing development in conjunction with office development and expand this requirement to other types of commercial and large institutional developments.

The intent is to require large institutional employers that aren’t currently subject to the City’s Jobs-Housing Linkage Fee to conduct an analysis of the housing demand of their employees and then show how they will meet that demand in their Institutional Master Plans (“IMP”). It could also pave the path for extending the JHLF to large non-institutional uses that are not currently subject to it (hospitals/schools/etc.).

In a bit of revisionist history, the Planning Department notes that the “IMP” caused colleges to realize the housing needs of their students and credit that as causing many private non-profit colleges to build student housing. In fact, IMPs had nothing to do with colleges building housing. The need was obvious; in reality inclusionary housing requirements were too expensive for them to shoulder. It was only when the City exempted student housing from inclusionary requirements that several private schools embarked on ambitious housing construction programs. Non-profit colleges and healthcare providers will find it difficult to grow in San Francisco if the Jobs-Housing Linkage Fee – currently ranging from $26 – $76 per square foot for other uses – is extended to them.

Commerce & Industry Element:

Policy 4.5: Control encroachment of incompatible land uses on viable industrial activity. Production, Distribution, and Repair (PDR) areas offer economic opportunity for adjacent neighborhoods, especially for low-income communities and communities of color. PDR businesses can provide stable job opportunities, good wages, and diversity in types of activities and jobs Restrict incompatible land uses, such as housing and office, and the conversion of industrial buildings to other building types in PDR districts and in areas of concentrated PDR, construction, or utility activities.

In mixed-use districts or areas adjacent to PDR districts, avoid the displacement of existing businesses, protect the affordability of PDR space, and, if displacement is unavoidable, replace some or all the PDR use with viable, affordable industrial space on-site or off-site in a PDR district.

This revised language paves the way for the City to adopt additional restrictions on the types of uses permitted in PDR districts – specifically the conversion or new construction of laboratory uses that frequently complement PDR. Engineering labs, for example, often need PDR to supply parts for prototyping, testing, and may well grow into small-scale manufacturing (PDR) uses themselves. This flexibility has served both PDR and lab uses well. How is a policy that replaces synergy with inflexibility good for the City? Why is industrial protection in districts where housing is not even permitted a “conforming” amendment to the General Plan?

Even more ironically, this policy amendment sets the stage to say “no” to housing in the very areas that have been most successful at producing it: rezoned PDR areas accounted for roughly ¾ of housing production by striking a balance between preserving space for industry and allowing much higher residential density. Proposition X made it harder to build housing in certain districts by requiring replacement space. However, this policy could reach much further and set up yet another restriction on housing in favor of preserving industrial space. The Update is supposed to remove barriers to housing. This one fails that test.

A full list of the General Plan updates proposed in connection with the Housing Element Update is available on the Planning Department’s website.

The full Housing Element Update is anticipated for adoption by the Planning Commission on December 15, 2022, and Board of Supervisors in January 2023.

 

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

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.

2022 Housing Legislation Round-Up

bills

This year was a blockbuster year for housing legislation coming from Sacramento. Last week, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law more than three dozen bills related to housing and housing production. Below please find a brief overview of twelve housing bills signed by the Governor that become effective next year.

AB 682. Density Bonus for “Shared Housing” Buildings

AB 682 amends the State Density Bonus Law to create a density bonus for “Shared Housing” developments. Shared housing, or group housing as it is commonly known, is characterized by single-room units with shared access to common kitchen and dining facilities. Each unit is typically intended for one or two occupants and features a small kitchenette. This new density bonus will allow shared housing developments to build at greater densities in exchange for dedicating a percentage of units to affordable housing, with the same affordability requirements and bonus amounts as is currently available to standard-unit developments. Notably, shared housing developments can provide up to 25% of their floor area as standard-unit housing and still qualify for a density bonus.

AB 916. No Public Hearing to Increase Bedroom Count

AB 916 prohibits cities from requiring a public hearing for a permit to add up to two bedrooms by reconfiguring existing space within an existing dwelling unit.

AB 1551. Commercial Development Bonuses for Providing Affordable Housing

AB 1551 creates a density bonus for commercial developers who partner with housing developers and support the provision of affordable housing through land donation, cash payment, or by directly building units. A commercial developer is eligible for up to a 20% density bonus. To qualify, the housing development supported by the commercial developer must provide either 30% of units as affordable for low income (<80% AMI) or 15% of units as affordable for very-low income (<50% AMI).

AB 2011. Affordable Housing and High Road Jobs Act

AB 2011 provides streamlined, ministerial approval of multifamily housing developments that contain affordable housing units located in commercial zones. Two tiers of development are available, depending on the amount of affordable housing provided. A project dedicating 100% of units as affordable for lower income households can be developed by right on most parcels zoned for retail, office, or parking uses. A project with market-rate units that provides a specific percentage of rental or ownership units as affordable for either lower income or very-low income households can be developed by right on parcels zoned for retail, office, or parking if the site has at least 50 feet of frontage on a commercial corridor (a street between 70 and 150 feet wide). AB 2011 projects are also subject to certain prevailing wage and skilled workforce requirements. We have discussed AB 2011 in greater detail in previous updates on August 24, 2022, and September 1, 2022.

SB 6. Middle Class Housing Act

SB 6 is intended to increase the development potential for middle-income housing by principally permitting housing developments that meet specific criteria in areas zoned for office, retail, or parking uses. Eligible developments are required to meet or exceed certain density thresholds established in the state’s Housing Element law, such as 30 units per acre in metropolitan settings or 20 units per acre in suburban settings. SB 6 projects must also meet certain prevailing wage and skilled and trained workforce requirements, although a development can be exempted from these in certain circumstances.

AB 2334. Density Bonus in Very Low Vehicle Travel Area

AB 2334 expands the available density bonus for 100% affordable housing developments in very low vehicle travel areas. A “very low vehicle travel area” is a transit analysis zone where existing residential development generates 85% or fewer vehicle miles traveled per capita than the regional area in which it is located. Qualifying density bonus projects are not subject to maximum density controls, are entitled to up to 4 development incentives, and may receive an additional three-stories of height. This additional density bonus is only available in the counties of the Bay Area, Sacramento, the Southern Coast, and Inland Empire. AB 2334 also clears up the grey area for application of the state density bonus in a form-based zoning district, requiring calculation of an “average unit size” multiplied by the density bonus amount to determine increase in floor area allowed.

AB 2653. Housing Element Reporting

AB 2653 alters some of the requirements for annual housing element reports cities must submit to the state. Cities must include greater detail, including the numbers of all new and demolished housing units in the jurisdiction, as well as data on all approved density bonus projects. AB 2653 also provides a mechanism for the state to request corrections and make referrals for enforcement.

AB 2668. SB 35 Streamlining Updates

AB 2668 amends SB 35 clarifying streamlined SB 35 projects are not subject to any non-legislative discretionary approval and that density bonus units are not considered when calculating whether a project satisfies SB 35’s affordability requirements. Further, the bill prohibits cities from denying an application for missing materials if there is enough information to allow a reasonable person to conclude the development is consistent with the applicable objective standards. AB 2668 also brings important change to how the Cortese List affects SB 35 eligibility. Placement on the Cortese List, which is the aggregate of the state’s decentralized hazardous waste sites databases, disqualifies a site from SB 35, until it is cleared for residential use by the authority having jurisdiction. However, longstanding confusion over the mechanism of clearing a site meant that once a site was listed, it was effectively barred from SB 35 permanently, even if it had undergone extensive remediation. AB 2668 establishes specific criteria, documentation, and agency determinations that allow a “listed” site to qualify for SB 35.

AB 2221 & SB 897. ADU Law Updates

AB 2221 and SB 897 make a number of changes to existing ADU law to provide for greater development flexibility and ensure consistent and efficient project review. Under these bills, a city that denies an ADU application will be required to provide a full set of written comments that includes a list of all deficient items and details how the application can be remedied. These comments must be provided within the existing 60-day review period. Additionally, a city will be prohibited from denying an ADU application based on nonconforming zoning conditions, building code violations, or unpermitted structures that are not affected by the ADU construction and do not pose a threat to safety.

The bills also increase ADU development potential by restricting setbacks that prevent ADUs below a minimum floor area, increasing the minimum height limit for ADUs located near transit stops or attached to primary dwellings, and prohibiting owner-occupancy requirements until January 1, 2025.  Importantly, the addition of an ADU will no longer constitute a change of R occupancy under the building code such as from an R3 (single-family or duplex) to an R2 (multi-family), and will not trigger a requirement for fire sprinklers if not previously required.

AB 2234. Post-Entitlement Permit Processing

AB 2234 focuses on post-entitlement non-discretionary building permit processes after the planning process has concluded and environmental review is complete. AB 2234 requires local agencies to compile a list of information need to approve or deny a post-entitlement permit, a checklist and post an example of a completed, approved application. AB 2234 also sets timelines for review of post-entitlement applications for housing projects: (a) for projects with 25 units or fewer, a local agency shall complete first review and comment within 30 days of an application completion; and (b) for projects with 26 or more units, a local agency shall complete first review and comment within 60 days of an application completion. These time limits are tolled if a local agency requires review of an application by an outside third-party reviewer. Failure to meet these timelines is a violation of the Housing Accountability Act.

 

Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorneys Justin A. Zucker and Daniel J. Turner.

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.

AB 2011 & SB 6: Pro-Growth or Slow Growth for Construction Workforce

SB 6

AB 2011, along with SB 6 (Cabellero, Eggman and Rubio), were passed by the California Legislature this week with large majorities in both houses. The two bills will create 10-year housing programs with similar aims: increasing housing production and increasing the skill level, wages, and number of residential construction workers. However, the bills differ in important ways—their approach to density, allowances for ministerial approvals, and the degree of deference to local zoning rules. They also take markedly different approaches to growing, training, and better compensating the residential construction workforce. The bills were the product of a political compromise between the State Building & Construction Trades Council and the Carpenters Union. They effectively set up an experiment to test the relative efficacy of the SB 6 labor rules favored by the State Building & Construction Trades Council—basically requiring union labor on any SB 6 project and the rules preferred by the Carpenters Union – requiring payment of prevailing wages and benefits to all workers on an AB 2011 project.

A good deal of attention has been given to improving the regulatory conditions for getting new housing approved, expanding access to sites, and requiring cities to upzone. However, less attention has been paid to the fact that—even if there were shovel-ready projects for the Governor’s declared goal of 3.5 million new homes over ten years—the current residential construction workforce could only build about a third of that number without significant increases in the number and productivity of workers, who currently build housing at a rate of one home per worker per year. By comparison, average productivity per worker was 1.4 units per year from 1990-2005. Put simply, the state cannot meet its housing targets without an increase in the number of workers and productivity.

However, attracting new workers has proven difficult. Median residential construction worker pay in California ranks 46th in the country when adjusted for the high cost of living. On average, residential construction workers income is 2/3 of their commercial counterparts and they get about 1/3 the amount of fringe benefits. Less than half have insurance through employers. This is a dramatic shift since the 1970s and 1980s, when average pay in both sectors was roughly equal.

AB 2011, which we discussed in greater detail last week, provides for time-limited ministerial approvals for properties on commercial corridors that meet certain criteria for affordable housing and overrides local zoning rules that conflict with its minimum standards for density and height. It also mandates payment of prevailing wage to all construction workers, or at least the prevailing apprentice wages for apprentices enrolled in state-approved apprentice programs. Family healthcare benefits are required for projects with qualified construction craft workers on projects with more than 50 units, while those without such workers can credit qualifying expenditures toward the prevailing wage requirements. Essentially, AB 2011 bets that rapid approvals under more liberal standards will entice employers to pay higher wages and create a strong, near-term incentive for developers to invest in apprenticeship programs to elevate worker productivity.

A final version of SB 6 has yet to be published, but takes a less aggressive approach than AB 2011 with lower minimum density requirements, greater deference to local zoning, and no mandatory ministerial approval process unless a project otherwise qualifies under SB 35. Thus, many SB 6 projects would be subject to lengthy CEQA reviews and modified discretionary approvals. It would require lower amounts of affordable housing subsidies by than AB 2011, but would effectively require the use of union labor if two qualified bids are received from union contractors. While SB 6 expands potential building sites, most projects would not realize the cost savings associated with quick ministerial approvals or the elimination of most entitlement/CEQA risk. Without these incentives in place, it may be years before the state sees its first SB 6 project, or additional demand for workers.

AB 2011 passed the Assembly 67-4 with 9 abstentions and the Senate 33-0 with 7 abstentions. While the 4 Noes in the Assembly were from rural and suburban districts leaning more conservative (3 Rs & 1 D), notably 7 of the 9 abstentions were from urban and suburban districts along the coast between Ventura and San Diego with a high number of Democratic representatives (6 Ds & 3 Rs). Conversely, SB 6 passed the Assembly 67-0 with 13 abstentions and the Senate 34-0 with 6 abstentions. Of the 4 Noes for AB 2011, 3 abstained in SB 6 and 1 voted yes (a democrat representative from District 29, encompassing Santa Cruz and the surrounding area). The Assembly abstentions followed a similar pattern as AB 2011, with those abstaining coming from both parties and primarily representing rural districts or coastal urban and suburban districts in Southern California. For both AB 2011 and SB 6, the Senate abstentions followed a similar geographic pattern as in the Assembly.

While union support was split between the two bills, with both construction and other unions on either side, pro-housing and business organizations tended to support both. Most affordable housing developers supported AB 2011 and opposed SB 6, presumably because the latter would tend to increase cost and time for approval without offsetting benefits. San Francisco’s Council of Community Housing Organizations, which frequently opposes market-rate development, was a notable outlier, supporting SB 6 and opposing AB 2011 in spite of its clear benefits to affordable housing developers.

Both bills still need to be signed by the governor and will not take effect until July 2023. Annual reports of projects approved under both bills are required from cities and the Department of Housing & Community Development is to provide two reports on the use of each during the ten year period prior to their sunset date.

 

Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorneys Daniel Frattin and Daniel J. Turner.

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.

To Fourplex or Not to Fourplex

fourplex

Senate Bill 9 (SB 9), which took effect January 1, 2022, enables property owners to split their single-family residential lot into two separate lots and build up to two new housing units on each lot.  A key component of SB 9 is that it requires ministerial approval of such projects.  In San Francisco (the “City”), that means no discretionary review process and other opportunities for project opposition.  The City’s policymakers and housing advocates were influential in the adoption of SB 9.  And yet, now that it’s here, the City’s lawmakers can’t seem to decide if they like SB 9.

Housing advocates hailed SB 9 for facilitating the construction of new, smaller dwelling units throughout the City.  Everyone can agree that the City needs housing.  However, the City’s new housing production in recent years has been heavily concentrated in the eastern and southeastern parts of the City, with 90% of all new housing produced in just ten eastside and central neighborhoods.  Development in these neighborhoods has at times been subject to significant conflicts and prevented from moving forward.  At the same time, roughly 60% of the City’s developable land area is in residential zoning districts, concentrated primarily on the City’s west side, with 38% of the City’s developable land area zoned exclusively for single-family homes.  Just 3% of housing built since 2005 was added in areas that allow one to two units (only 6% of affordable housing when ADUs are counted).  SB 9 presents a fresh approach.

When Supervisor Rafael Mandelman proposed his “fourplex” legislation last summer, allowing any single-family home to be turned into a fourplex, and corner lots to have six units, it seemed SB 9 would be embraced, and that some of the City’s more vexing housing challenges would be addressed.  It wasn’t that easy.

Last Monday (April 11), the Board of Supervisors’ Land Use Committee considered Supervisor Mandelman’s fourplex legislation.  Supervisor Mandelman, facing significant political push-back, had amended his legislation to upzone all single-family residential districts (RH-1 and RH-1(D)) in the City to two-family density (RH-2 and RH-2(D)).  The elimination of single-family zoning is a means of ensuring the approval of new fourplexes and six-unit projects would not be ministerial, and that discretionary review of these projects would continue.  This is because the ministerial provisions of SB 9 apply only to single-family residential districts.

Advocates of preserving the discretionary review process cite the need for the City to maintain design review control over new housing.  But discretionary review is not about design review.  Discretionary review has become a process that project opponents manipulate to stop new development.  It adds significant time, cost, and risk to the production of housing, thereby discouraging new units.  If design review is the concern, there are better ways to accomplish that without leaving it to discretionary review.

Other related issues addressed by Supervisor Mandelman’s legislation include residency and tenancy controls, measures to prevent demolition, condominium conversion and subdivision controls, and rent protections.

In the end, at the Land Use Committee on Monday, the Committee approved certain amendments proposed by Supervisor Melgar that sought to encourage larger units, incentivize marginalized homeowners to create more units, and waive the application fees for Historic Resource Assessments,  and then voted to continue its consideration of the legislation to the April 25 meeting.

 

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.

Density Bonus Law & CEQA Tiering Upheld

DBL

This winter, two California Courts of Appeal issued decisions that reaffirm some of the positive aspects of state laws related to housing production, from both a CEQA perspective and via the State Density Bonus Law (“DBL”). In the first case, out of East Bay city Newark, the First District Court of Appeal upheld a tiered CEQA review for a 469-lot subdivision based on a program-level EIR prepared for a Specific Plan. About a week later, the Fourth Appellate District upheld San Diego’s approval of a 20-story residential tower, relying heavily on the protections afforded to mixed-income residential projects under the DBL. We discuss each below.

In Newark, the City approved a specific plan in 2010 for up to 1,260 units, as well as a golf course and related facilities, relying on an EIR. The EIR specifically noted that Newark would proceed under CEQA Guidelines Section 15168 for specific development proposals and “tier” off of the EIR to the extent applicable. In 2019, the applicants submitted a subdivision map proposing 469 residential lots, but no golf course. Other changes from the development analyzed in the EIR included filling and elevating only certain areas on the site (the project site is located next to the San Francisco Bay) and locating the filled and elevated areas directly next to wetlands, with riprap along the western banks. The City prepared an exemption checklist comparing the EIR to the subdivision’s impacts and conducted background technical studies, including an updated sea level rise analysis. The checklist found that the subdivision would be consistent with the specific plan, and that there were no changed circumstances or new information that might trigger the need for more CEQA review than what was done for the EIR. It was a classic example of CEQA “tiering.”

The Court of Appeal upheld the City’s use of the checklist. First, it rejected an argument that the project changes made tiering inappropriate. The Court helpfully pointed out that changes in and of themselves do not eliminate the ability to tier off an EIR; instead, the environmental consequences resulting from those changes must be new, greater, or substantially different than what was analyzed in the EIR. Here, they were not. The Court also rejected the appellant’s claim that the amount and rate of sea level rise was different enough to require a new EIR, finding that the EIR’s unambiguous finding of a significant impact due to sea level rise was adequate, as was some language in the EIR noting that the rate of sea level rise was uncertain and might be accelerating.

Finally, the Court determined that adaptive management plans for sea level rise do not improperly defer consideration of mitigation measures. Taking a refreshingly common-sense approach to climate change and CEQA, the Court would not fault Newark for acknowledging in the EIR that adaptive management would be required. “The City’s potential responses to environmental conditions between 50 and 80 years from now cannot be considered part of the project,” it concluded. “Because the City currently can only dimly guess what measures will be needed to respond to conditions several generations from now, the City was not required to analyze the impacts of the adaptive pathways” as part of the project.

The Court of Appeal’s opinion in San Diego generated more buzz, particularly among the pro-housing groups that have done yeoman’s work in recent years to strengthen California’s housing protections. The case was originally not certified for publication, in part because San Diego’s City Attorney was reluctant to have a published case that so clearly spelled out the limits of the City’s discretion to deny or downsize density bonus projects. Nevertheless, after receiving petitions to publish it, the Court did. It is helpful in several ways, reaffirming the City’s evidentiary burden to deny waivers or concessions; harmonizing General Plan consistency findings with the DBL; and applying the conclusion the First District Court of Appeal reached in Wollmer v. City of Berkeley that a density bonus project can be approved with residential amenities such as a courtyard.

The Project—a 20-story, 204-unit mixed use tower at 6th Avenue and Olive Street across from Balboa Park—faced pushback from neighbors, at least some of whom the Court implied would lose their view of the park. Somewhat surprisingly, instead of arguing that the project would have an unmitigable health and safety impact on the adjacent park, the neighbors argued administratively, at the trial court, and at the Court of Appeal that the project should be denied because it did not comply with several General Plan and Community Plan guidelines that call for contextual development and massing moderation of tall towers. They also argued that the City should not approve waivers that contradicted the guidelines, and that the City should have approved a shorter and squatter development that had the same number of units but a smaller courtyard.

The Court began its analysis by noting that the neighbors had “sidestepped” the implications of the DBL, not discussing it at all in its opening brief and then dismissively claiming the DBL is not a “free pass.” The Court identified the narrow grounds by which a City can shrink or deny a DBL project and pointed out that the neighbors simply failed to make any arguments about that point.

It then went on to explain that the developer specifically requested concessions under the DBL that were germane to each of the General Plan and Community Plan guidelines the neighbors claimed the project did not comply with. The City Council expressly made a finding that there was no evidence to support the denial of the requested incentive, which the Court found to be determinative—acknowledging that the burden on this issue has now shifted to cities if they attempt to deny a project, not the developer proposing an incentive. It also concluded that the project’s waivers were correctly layered on top of the project with requested concessions, meaning a project qualifies for waivers based on its form with both the density bonus and the concessions.

The Court finally rejected the neighbors’ claim that the project’s design was not dictated by the density bonus and concessions, but by a large courtyard. It pointed out that this precise argument was raised and rejected in the Wollmer v. City of Berkeley case from 2011, one of the first cases analyzing the modern DBL. The San Diego City Council could not demand the developer remove the courtyard or redesign its building to satisfy the neighbors’ subjective concerns. The Court stated: “a city cannot apply a development standard that would physically preclude construction of the project as designed, even if the building includes ‘amenities’ beyond the bare minimum of building components.” It remains to be seen what qualifies as an “amenity” that can be baked into a project other than a courtyard, as both Wollmer and the San Diego case related to open space and courtyard amenities. And the evidentiary burden and procedural posture here were also the same as Wollmer: a city defending a project approval with amenities instead of making a project shorter or smaller by eliminating them. This issue may be ripe for further litigation.

The Newark case—Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge v. City of Newark et al. (2022) ___ Cal.App. ___ (A162045, Alameda County Superior Court No. RG19046938)—and the San Diego case—Bankers Hill 150 et al v. City of San Diego et al (2022) ___ Cal.App. ___ (D077963, Super. Ct. No. 37-2019- 00020725-CU-WM-CTL)—are reminders that well-crafted CEQA documents, entitlement applications, and approval motions can help ensure new state laws meant to protect and streamline housing projects are accurately applied to a project.

 

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.

State Warns San Francisco Concerning Rejected Housing Projects

State

The Board of Supervisors (“Board”) recently issued two unusual denials of large housing projects – the projects would have provided over 800 dwelling units, over 130 of which were affordable.  In an even more unusual move, last week the California Department of Housing and Community Development (“HCD”) informed San Francisco officials that the City may have violated state housing laws by rejecting the projects.  Without getting into the Board politics behind the project denials, the State’s actions are notable.  The State rarely takes such a public stance concerning local planning and zoning decisions, indicating the high priority the State is placing on the provision of housing and the concern with these decisions.

The Two Rejected Housing Projects

The two housing projects at issue are located at 469 Stevenson Street and 450-474 O’Farrell Street.  The 469 Stevenson Street project is a mixed-use, 27-story high rise with 495 dwelling units, including 89 affordable units.  The Board of Supervisors denied the project on CEQA grounds, overturning the Planning Commission’s certification of the project’s Final Environmental Impact Report (“FEIR”).  In HCD’s own words, the Board cited “various vague concerns about FEIR deficiencies, including seismic concerns, effects (e.g., shadowing) on historic resources, and gentrification.”

The project at 450-474 O’Farrell Street is a modification of an earlier project.  The new project proposes more, smaller units (316 vs. 174) that are “affordable by design”, and included 43 affordable/below market rate units.  The Board overturned the Planning Commission’s approval of a Conditional Use Authorization for the project without yet issuing written findings.

HCD Letter

HCD made its concerns known to City officials in a letter last week.  The message was pointed.  HCD expressed concern that the Board’s decisions “represent[] a larger trend in the City/County,” noting that “California’s housing production does not meet housing need. In the past ten years, housing production has averaged fewer than 80,000 new homes each year, far fewer than the 180,000 new homes needed…. As a result, the cost of housing has skyrocketed, and San Francisco stands amongst the top two most expensive housing markets in the United States.”

HCD raised significant concerns with the City’s compliance with the Housing Accountability Act (“HAA”).  Under the HAA, a local government cannot disapprove or reduce the density of a housing development project that complies with applicable, objective general plan, zoning, and subdivision standards and criteria, including design review standards, in effect at the time that the application was deemed complete, unless it makes written findings supported by a preponderance of the evidence on the record that the project would have a specific, adverse impact upon the public health or safety and there is no feasible way to mitigate that impact.  The Board did not make such findings for either project.

HCD also expressed “concern[] about the significant delays in the approval of housing generally and in the City/County in particular.”  As to the O’Farrell project, HCD expressed concern that the City violated the “5 Hearing Rule” set forth in the Housing Crisis Act of 2019 (SB 330).  The Planning Commission had six hearings on the project and the Board appeal was the seventh hearing.

Lastly, HCD warned the City about its implementation of and compliance with its existing Housing Element and its upcoming Housing Element update.  The Housing Element update “must … demonstrate local efforts to remove governmental constraints that hinder the locality from meeting its share of the regional housing need and include program actions with metrics and milestones to remove or mitigate identified constraints…. Academic research continues to show that San Francisco’s processing and entitlement timeframes and procedures exceed the norms for other jurisdictions of similar size and complexity and act as a constraint on the development of housing.”

HCD concluded by reminding the City that HCD “has both the authority and duty to review any action or failure to act by a city, county, or city and county that it determines is inconsistent with an adopted housing element… or in violation of the HAA.”  HCD’s investigation remains open and they are continuing their review of the City’s practices with respect to housing review and approval generally.

 

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 Enacts Bills Aimed to Increase Housing

zoning

Last month, Governor Newsom signed three complimentary bills taking aim at the housing crisis in California: SB-8, SB-9, and SB-10. Together, the bills are intended to promote denser housing, streamline housing permitting, and boost housing production in California. The practical effects of the bills, however, are yet to be seen.

SB-9

SB-9 requires local agencies to ministerially approve the following in single-family zoning districts: (a) subdivision of existing lots into two parcels; and (b) development of up to two units per lot. Ministerial approvals require no environmental review, discretionary review, or public hearing process.

While opponents have painted SB-9 as a death knoll for single-family zoning, in reality the legislation comes with slew of caveats and conditions that limit its practical application.

To qualify for ministerial approval of a lot split under SB-9, all of the following must be met:

  • Site is located in a single-family residential zoning district;
  • Site is located in an urbanized area or urban cluster, or within a city that has an urbanized area or urban cluster, as designated by the US Census Bureau (which covers most urban and suburban cities in the state);
  • Subdivision creates no more than two new parcels of approximately equal lot area, provided that one parcel may not be smaller than 40% of the lot area of the original parcel proposed for subdivision;
  • Both newly created parcels must be no smaller than 1,200 square feet, unless the local jurisdiction adopts an ordinance allowing for smaller lot sizes with ministerial approval;
  • Site is not located on property that is prime farmland or farmland of statewide importance; wetlands; in a very high fire hazard severity zone; a hazardous waste site; in a delineated earthquake fault zone; in a special flood hazard area; in a regulatory floodway; identified for conservation in an adopted natural community conservation plan; a habitat for a protected species; or subject to a conservation easement;
  • Subdivision would not require demolition or alteration of housing subject to rent control; designated affordable housing; housing that has been removed from the rental market through Ellis Act eviction in the last 15 years; or housing that has been occupied by a tenant (market rate or affordable) in the past 3 years;
  • Site is not an historic landmark, and is not located within an historic district;
  • Site was not created through a prior SB-9 subdivision; and
  • Neither the owner of the parcel being subdivided or any person acting in concert with the owner has previously used SB-9 to subdivide an adjacent parcel.

To qualify for ministerial approval to develop up to 2 units per lot under SB-9, the locational and tenant-history criteria are similar.  In addition, applicants will need to show that the project won’t demolish more than 25% of the existing exterior structural walls, unless either a local agency passes legislation allowing otherwise, or the site has not been occupied by a tenant in the last 3 years.

SB-9 also contains an owner-occupancy condition which limits its utility for development entities.  Applicant-owners will be required to sign an affidavit stating their intent to occupy one of the resulting housing units as the owner’s principal residence for at least three years following the lot split.  However, community land trusts and qualified nonprofit corporations are exempt, and local agencies cannot impose any other owner-occupancy requirements.

And while SB-9 will allow for ministerial approval of qualifying projects, local agencies can still require all of the following:

  • Lots resulting from ministerial subdivision be limited to residential use;
  • No short term rental of units resulting from ministerial approval;
  • Project compliance with all objective zoning, subdivision, and design review standards applicable to the parcel that do not have the effect of physically precluding construction of two units on either resulting parcel or result in a unit size of less than 800 sf;
  • That new structures provide setbacks of up to 4 feet form side and rear lot lines;
  • For residential units connected to an onsite wastewater treatment system, a percolation test completed within the last 5 years, or, if the percolation test has been recertified, within the last 10 years.
  • Projects provide easements for provision of public services and utilities;
  • All resulting parcels maintain access to or adjoin the public right of way;
  • Projects to provide parking of up to 1 space per resulting unit, unless the site is located within ½ mile of a high-quality transit corridor or major transit stop, or there is a car share vehicle located within 1 block of the site.

Finally, on lots that are both created by an SB-9 lot split and developed with two units under SB-9, a local agency is not required to permit ADUs or JADUs.

SB-8

SB-8 primarily extends the Housing Crisis Act of 2019 (SB-330) another five years until 2030 and clarifies some of the text of the previous measure.  Among other things, SB-330 expedites the permitting process for housing developments; protects existing housing inventory; allows housing developments to file preliminary applications that provide grandfathering protection against zoning changes enacted during the discretionary review process; and limits the ability of local agencies to downzone areas unless they upzone an equivalent amount elsewhere within their boundaries.

SB-10

SB-10 authorizes local governments, at their election, to adopt an ordinance to zone any parcel for up to 10 residential units in transit-rich areas or urban infill sites.  That would apply to most properties located along established bus lines, within half a mile of a major transit stop, or in residential/mixed use areas of most California cities.  Ordinances or resolutions adopted by local agencies under SB-10 are exempt from environmental review, would require a 2/3 vote in favor from the local legislative body to adopt, and could not be used to reduce density otherwise permitted on any parcel subject to the ordinance.  SB-10 would further prohibit a residential or mixed-use project with 10 or more units that is located on a parcel zoned pursuant to an SB-10 ordinance from being approved ministerially or by right, or from being exempt from environmental review.

 

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.

Eliminating Single Family Zoning is OK, but Don’t Eliminate Parking

Bill

SB 9 Makes it Through the Assembly but AB 1401 Dies in the Senate

Two bills that would limit local control over housing issues met very different fates this past Thursday in the California Legislature.  Both were vehemently opposed by cities and groups that favor local control over land use decision making.  One was opposed by housing equity groups.

Senate Bill 9

Senate Bill 9 (“SB 9”) would, among other things, require a city or county to ministerially approve (1) a two-unit housing project in a single-family zone, (2) the subdivision of a parcel zoned for residential use into two parcels, or (3) both.

SB 9 could unlock substantial housing production in single-family neighborhoods, where opposition to multi-family housing projects is typically greatest.  Many of the lots in these districts include only a single-family home and maybe an Accessory Dwelling Unit (which cannot be separately sold).  SB 9 would allow each existing single-family lot to be ministerially subdivided into two lots, and require ministerial approval of a duplex on each of the lots.

According to the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley, SB 9 has the potential to allow for the development of nearly 6 million new housing units statewide.

Assembly Bill 1401

Assembly Bill 1401 (“AB 1401”) would limit minimum off-street parking requirements for projects located near a “major transit stop” (generally a train station or bus station with high frequency headways).

AB 1401 is hardly radical legislation.  When first introduced by Assembly Member Friedman in February 2021, the bill prohibited public entities (cities and counties) from imposing or enforcing minimum parking requirements on residential, commercial, or other development that is located within one-half mile walking distance of a “major transit stop” (generally a rail stop or a bus stop with frequent headways).  As last amended on July 5, 2021, the bill eased the prohibition for smaller cities.  A city with a population of 75,000 or more that is located in a county with a population of less than 600,000 was only prohibited from imposing the parking minimums on projects located within one-quarter mile of a major transit stop, and a city with a population of less than 75,000 was not subject to any prohibition.

Studies show that eliminating minimum parking requirements for projects located near transit routes supports the state’s housing goals by reducing the cost to deliver housing and allowing more dwelling units on a development site.  Eliminating parking requirements near transit also advances the state’s environmental goals by reducing emissions from cars.

Wait, the Parking Bill is the One That Died?

Both SB 9 and AB 1401 sailed through their respective policy committees in both the Assembly and the Senate with large vote margins in support.  Both were vehemently opposed throughout by local governments and groups that advocate for “local control” over land use decision making.  Yet AB 1401 was referred to the “suspense file” in the Appropriations Committee, where ambitious legislation often goes to die, while SB 9 was not.

It is hard to know exactly why bills are referred to the “suspense file.”  The “suspense file” is intended to be a place to evaluate whether to advance a bill that could have a significant fiscal impact.  But committee analyses of both SB 9 and AB 1401 show that both bills were anticipated to have the same annual impact on the budget (SB 9: $89,000 and AB 1401: $97,000).

A more plausible explanation emerges when one considers the groups opposed to the changes the bills would bring.  It is not surprising that numerous suburban cities and local government groups opposed both bills (SB 9 faced even greater opposition from these groups than AB 1401).  However, the opposition to AB 1401 was more diverse.  Affordable housing advocates argued that eliminating parking minimums for market rate development would reduce incentives for developers to create the affordable dwelling units required to reduce parking requirements using the Density Bonus Law.  In addition, environmental groups objected to the reduction of parking near transit as inconsistent with equity goals.

Decline in Value Real Estate Tax Appeals Due September 15

The deadline to appeal the valuation of property for real estate tax purposes is September 15 for both San Francisco and Alameda Counties.  Such an appeal would be appropriate due to a decline in property value because of the impact of Covid-19 and the related business shutdowns.  If you need more information, please contact Kevin Rose at krose@reubenlaw.com (415.567.9000).  Other counties may have different deadlines, so you should check with your local County appeals board to confirm the deadlines.

 

Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Matthew Visick.

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.

Appellate Court Clarifies Permit Streamlining Act’s Noticing Requirements

PSA's

On the heels of the Berkeley Shellmound SB 35 decision in favor of streamlined housing, another recent Court of Appeal decision rejected a public agency’s attempts to delay a housing project under the Permit Streamlining Act (“PSA”), and clarified that a jurisdiction with permitting authority must take action within the PSA’s time limits even if the project’s public hearing notice did not specifically discuss the PSA’s “deemed approved” provision.

Overturning a 2006 decision about the level of detail necessary to trigger the PSA’s “deemed approved” requirement when a City fails to render a decision on a project within a specified time period, the Court of Appeal in late June determined that a public agency’s hearing notice did not need to specifically include a reference to the deemed approved outcome (Linovitz Capo Shores LLC et al v. California Coastal Commission, No. G058331 (Cal. Ct. App. June 25, 2021)). Instead, the Court found that the California Coastal Commission (“Coastal Commission”) failed to properly make a decision on the merits of a mobilehome housing project within the PSA’s time limits, and under the PSA the project was approved. While the fact pattern for the case is somewhat unique, it provides a lesson for local and state permitting agencies, and project sponsors dealing with jurisdictions hostile to new housing.

Owners of beachfront mobilehomes in San Clemente, Orange County, filed permits with the Coastal Commission and other permitting agencies to renovate their mobilehome park. After several years, the Coastal Commission issued individual public hearing notices for each application. The notice included a project description, the date, time, and location of the hearing, hearing procedures, and ways the public could participate. Notably, the hearing notice did not specify the deadline for the Coastal Commission to render a decision on the permits under the PSA. However, the staff report provided in bold lettering that the Coastal Commission was required to make a decision at the hearing in order to comply with the PSA, and the Commission’s legal counsel discussed the “deemed approved” deadline at the hearing itself.

At the project hearing, the sponsors agreed in principle to withdraw and re-file their applications with an amended scope, but asked the Coastal Commission to waive resubmittal fees and a resubmittal waiting period. The Commission waived the waiting period, but not the resubmittal fees, and the meeting recessed without any further comment from the project sponsors. The Commission did not take any formal action on the pending applications. The sponsors then sued the Commission, claiming in part that the projects had been deemed approved under the PSA.

Unsurprisingly, the Coastal Commission claimed that the projects were not approved for several reasons. Relevant to the PSA, according to the Commission, the requisite public notice under the PSA was never given. It claimed the hearing notice needed to include a statement that the projects would be “deemed approved” if the Commission did not act within 60 days. The Court of Appeal disagreed, interpreting the PSA to require such a statement only when an applicant itself is providing notice of a hearing under the PSA. When the permitting agency provides notice, the PSA’s time limitations can apply even if the notice does not discuss the PSA.

The Court of Appeal’s decision overturns a 2006 decision reaching the opposite conclusion. The Court did not promulgate a list of information that must be included in a public notice to trigger the PSA’s deemed approved deadlines, instead reaching a narrower conclusion that the notice provided in this case—as discussed above—complied with statutory law and constitutional due process principles.

Interestingly, the Court noted that even though the Coastal Commission did not have a legal obligation to notify the public of the upcoming PSA deadline, it did just that, both through the project’s staff report and its legal counsel’s advice to the Commission that the PSA deadline was approaching. The Court also went out of its way to note near-unanimous public support for the project, which arguably made its decision easier. Implied in the Court’s opinion is that the Commission made a simple mistake of parliamentary procedure by not taking an official action on the pending applications in front of it.

The Court did not opine on whether the Commission could legally keep the hearing open and continue it to a future date past the PSA deadline date, or adopt a motion of intent to disapprove and continue it. Both are common actions taken by permitting authorities that pro-housing activists have long claimed circumvent the intent of the PSA and cause delay to housing projects.

Increasingly, California courts are being asked to enforce the pro-housing laws passed in Sacramento in recent years, such as SB 330, the PSA, and SB 35. For example, two trial courts recently rejected anti-housing voter initiatives on the grounds they violated SB 330, either one of which could be appealed and become binding case law. We will continue to keep you up to date on major housing-related legal developments.

 

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.