This Week in San Francisco Land Use

​Failed Land Use Bills at State Legislature Provide Insight into Future Planning Policies

Today marks the last day of the California Legislature’s session.  It also marks the end of the biennial rush of last minute legislating:  flurries of bills – not of insignificant importance – being passed in the waning days of the session by a legislature that can never be sure about the result of the upcoming election season.  While the major public pension and workers’ compensation reform measures – expected for passage today – have been getting most of the headlines, a pair of significant land use reform measures that did not ultimately get passed provide a window into potential future reforms.

California’s landmark environmental law, CEQA, has been pelted with criticism and ripe for reform for decades now.  We in the Bay Area are well aware of CEQA’s many ironies.  You can’t get a “greener” land use and planning policy than high-density, urban infill projects near public transit.  To have these projects be held up with countless studies, unsubstantiated CEQA appeals from neighbors, and potential litigation, seems to be in direct conflict with promoting environmental protection.  The most egregious example of CEQA’s unintended consequences were the air quality guidelines handed down by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District a few years back that triggered full EIRs for mid-sized housing developments in San Francisco.

Last week, in a bit of legislative sleight-of-hand, Senator Michael Rubio was considering amending a bill he had already introduced by removing all of its text, and inserting his CEQA reform measure in its place.  Language of the CEQA reform measure was never released, but a two-page overview was released by the CEQA working group (a group of industry leaders working to modernize the 40-year-old law).  Mainly, the reform measure would improve CEQA by coordinating and integrating various environmental and planning laws.  CEQA lawsuits would be barred to challenge new measures that would enhance environmental standards.  Lawsuits would be limited when a project is consistent with a general plan or area plan, so long as the project is incorporating mitigation measures from the adopted plan.  Public disclosure and reporting would be enhanced, by requiring projects to issue annual reports of compliance with mitigation measures on a new public website.  

While the State Senate ultimately decided not to take up the reform measure in this term, citing the lack of public hearings and outreach, Senate President Darrell Steinberg did state his commitment to future CEQA reform similar to the Rubio measure:  “We’re going to take it on, and we’re going to take it on in a big way, [but]…in the only way good things really get done around here – and that is to sit down over the course of weeks and months and grind through the tough issues and make the fair compromises.”

Another measure that was expected to pass but was ultimately killed was Berkeley Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner’s bill that would restrict the ability of localities to require parking in high-transit areas.  Considering the fact that San Francisco no longer requires parking downtown and in other public transit neighborhoods, the impacts of the bill would have been limited here.  But the bill would have established a statewide maximum required parking standard in these areas of two spaces per 1,000 square feet for smaller non-residential projects and one space per unit in market-rate housing developments.  The bill was championed by the California Infill Builders Federation, but was ultimately killed by a coalition of Central Valley cities and the American Planning Association, which believed the bill did not provide cities enough discretion to account for unique circumstances.  

While these reform measures did not make the cut in the 2011/2012 legislative session, they are likely beacons of what is to come in the near future with respect to land use reform in California.  We will especially be keeping our eyes on CEQA reform – both locally and in Sacramento – as changes are likely on their way.

Real Estate Tax Appeal Deadlines are Looming

Property owners in San Francisco, Alameda, and Santa Clara Counties have only until September 15, 2012 to file real estate tax appeals concerning the 2012-2013 assessed property value.   Contra Costa County’s deadline is November 30, 2012.  These deadlines are absolute.  If missed, the taxpayer waives any right to file an appeal for this tax year.  If you need any assistance filing an appeal, please contact Kevin Rose at 

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, 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.

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