The legislative season is over, and we finally have begun to see our California legislature act on the housing crisis in this state. The Governor signed 15 bills that were intended to smooth the way to more housing being built.
Over the past year, you have heard me discuss the importance of addressing California’s housing crisis. So, I think it is appropriate to commend the legislature and the Governor for taking steps to start addressing what is an enormous problem.
Among the bills that were passed was a $4-billion bond measure to provide new affordable-housing units, a provision to streamline housing requirements in cities that aren’t building to state-mandated goals, incentives for cities to plan new neighborhoods, and prod local governments to get shovels into the ground, and giving the State the ability to review any action or failure to act by a city or county that it deems out of compliance with its housing element.
According to the California Department of Housing and Community Development, the State is currently falling about 100,000 units short each year in what it should be building to meet the demand. Under the best-case forecasts, the 15 new measures will only make a dent in the shortfall.
Our representatives admitted this is only a down payment on what is needed to really have an impact on the housing crisis. The fact is, the one way to resolve the housing shortfall in a big way is to spur the private sector to build more units. The only way to do that is to address the “elephant in the room” which is to reform the California Environmental Quality Act - more commonly referred to as CEQA.
Achieving CEQA reform is a monumental task because of the many special interest groups that have grown a cottage industry of using CEQA to squeeze developers for money, concessions, or to outright stop needed projects. The Hollywood Chamber was a part of a broad-based statewide coalition that worked for years to reform CEQA. A couple of years ago, we thought reform was finally doable. However, amendments were tacked on to the reform bills that would have ended up making CEQA compliance even worse, so the reform effort was dropped at that time.
Before that, in 2011, our Chamber convinced then-State Senator Curren Price to introduce SB735 for us. We thought we had the perfect solution – a measure that would strengthen the timelines for judicial consideration of CEQA cases. The idea was to require the courts to meet stricter administrative deadlines, enabling judges to decide cases as was originally the intent of the CEQA law.
However, our effort died when the State Judicial Council opposed our efforts, saying they did not have the wherewithal to speed up the process. Because we were just coming out of the Great Recession, there was no chance of providing the funding that they needed to expedite the process at that time.
So, when the Legislature takes this issue up again next year, I have a few suggestions. Why not provide more funding for judges to review CEQA cases and also to provide an expedited litigation schedule for resolution of an action and stricter timelines for appeal of a judgment for all projects? While we appreciate that the State extended an expedited schedule for court review of large Environmental Leadership Development Projects, this should apply to all projects – especially housing. Providing more funding for the courts review process might be the best investment the State could make in speeding up the construction of new housing.
This wouldn’t solve all CEQA-related problems, but it would be a start. While it wouldn’t please those whose goal is to delay and delay and delay, I believe the majority of Californians would support common-sense action that would still allow CEQA challenges but speed up the litigation.
And here is another suggestion. Rather than just encourage cities to meet their housing goals, why not add some teeth to hold cities accountable to meet the mandate of their housing goals? Just last month, the news media reported that the city of Redondo Beach approved a moratorium on new multifamily units even though they had only achieved 41 percent of their housing goals. If there are no penalties, cities will continue to consider meeting housing goals as a suggestion rather than a mandate.
There will be other suggestions made, but I thought I’d get a head-start out of the gate. Let’s encourage our legislature to take the hard steps to resolve the housing crisis.
Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 25 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood.