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Housing bills meeting held in La Jolla, legal opinion offered

Two Senate Bills that have gotten local attention were discussed at a special — albeit tepidly attended — meeting April 18 at REBA La Jolla.

The two bills are SB 330, dubbed the “Housing Crisis Act of 2019,” authored by State Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) and released in February; and SB 50, dubbed the More HOMES (Housing, Opportunity, Mobility, Equity and Stability) Act, introduced by San Francisco Sen. Scott Weiner Dec. 3, 2018.

Real estate broker James LaMattery has been making the rounds to local community planning groups (such as the La Jolla Community Planning Association and the La Jolla Shores Association) to inform members about the bills, and encourage advocacy against them. At the special meeting, attorney Cory Briggs was also on hand to answer legal questions and explain a constitutional amendment he had drafted to maintain local control in light of the Senate Bills. Nothing was voted on at the meeting.

Progress on the bills

Regarding SB 330, a statement from Skinner’s office reads: “The (Housing Crisis Act of 2019) would suspend … specific local rules and regulations that are recognized as obstacles to housing production, and it would establish reasonable time periods for processing housing permits.”

A spokesperson for Skinner told the Los Angeles Times that would mean San Diego’s coastal height limit would be suspended for new homes should the bill pass.

On April 10, the Senate Governance & Finance Committee passed the bill 6-0-1, but said it must be referred to the Committee on Housing.

Regarding SB 50, a statement from Senator Wiener’s office reads: “SB 50 eliminates hyper-low-density zoning near public transit and job centers, thus legalizing apartment buildings and affordable housing in these locations so that more people can live near transit. SB 50 creates new zoning standards for the construction of housing near job centers and public transportation.”

On April 2, SB 50 passed the Senate Housing Committee, with a vote of 9-1. The bill was set to be heard April 24 (beyond La Jolla Light deadline) by the Committee on Government & Finance. If it passes there, it will next go to the Appropriations Committee before it can go to the full Senate in June.

Local questions

At the meeting, LaMattery said SB 50 addresses development east of Interstate 5, and SB 330 would address development west of I-5.

La Jolla Shores resident and attorney Dolores Donovan asked Briggs to opine on how these bills would cooperate with the Coastal Act. “I would like to know your opinion on the relevance of the Coastal Act to SB 330 because I read the bills, although quickly, and SB 330 could leave the Coastal Act in force,” she said. “The Coastal Act says the California Coastal Commission would regulate development along the coast.”

Attorney Cory Briggs addresses the room to give his opinion of Senate Bills 330 and 50. Ashley Mackin-Solomon

Briggs responded: “The Coastal Act applies to development in the coastal zone; essentially, what is west of the nearest major freeway. It doesn’t regulate height, floor area ratio area or parking spaces. It is the local regulations that are affected by SB 330. You could still have the California Coastal Commission say, for reasons of public access and maintaining affordable access … it could regulate development. But it is not required to do that.

“The Coastal Commission tries to work with what local regulations require, if it were lawful to build high rises on every block, at some point the Coastal Commission can only pull back so much.”

In delving more into the bills themselves, he continued: “SB 330 essentially says it is all the local jurisdiction’s fault that we don’t have more housing, and therefore, the state is going to take away local authority.

“A big part of 330 is that local jurisdictions cannot deny a project unless they make certain findings that a project must be really bad. In other words, there is now a presumption in favor of a project as opposed to a developer needing to prove that the project qualifies under local grounds.”

SB 50, he continued, would give “incentives to developers who build in areas close to transit areas or what is known as ‘job-rich areas.’ Job rich areas are not defined … but a transit area is something within a quarter-mile of a bus line.”

Briggs said he and LaMattery drafted a constitutional amendment with “four high-profile signers, I can’t tell you who,” which he said would “tell the State they don’t get to tell us how we plan our neighborhoods” and “dictate how much density we take unless there are provisions that solve the infrastructure problem.”

He elaborated: “It would tell the State if it pays to bring our communities up to modern infrastructure standards … then you can tell us we are not pulling our fair share when it comes to housing.

“But until you bring out the checkbook, we can solve the problem. … The community (across the state, community-by-community) would then get to decide if they are willing to be brought up to modern times in exchange for increased density. Some communities would take it, others would figure it out for themselves.

“The problem with a one-size-fits-all solution from the State is (we could see) a full build-out in the City of San Diego, then La Mesa, then El Cajon then Julian.”

A follow-up meeting was not scheduled, but LaMattery said more meetings would be held in La Jolla.

To read or follow the status of these bills, visit leginfo.legislature.ca.gov and search SB 330 and/or SB 50.

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