Santa Monica Lawmaker Takes Aim at California’s Housing Shortage

bikeatCapitollabel2California State Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) has set his sights on tackling the dire shortage of homesand the resulting affordability crisiscurrently facing the state.

Bloom, whose district includes Malibu, Santa Monica, West L.A., Brentwood, and Beverly Hills, currently has three bills pending—A.B. 2501, A.B. 2299, and A.B. 2522—that seek to lower barriers to new housing production in cities throughout California.

“California is faced with a critical housing crisis. It has already caused severe escalation of housing prices, making the state less affordable to those living in poverty, our state’s workforce, and millennials,” said Bloom.

“If this crisis isn’t solved, our economy and quality of life will diminish as ever larger shares of people’s net income goes towards their housing,” he said.

Details about specific bills after the jump.

A.B. 2299: This bill would strengthen a state law passed in 2002 that allows property owners to build accessory dwelling units (ADUs), or granny flats, in backyards and other available land on their property. However, local jurisdictions have been able to impose onerous design and parking standards that have made the prospect of building ADUs prohibitively expensive. Under the proposed law, municipalities would not be able to impose “parking standards for a second unit [ADU] that is located within one-half mile of public transit or shopping or is within an architecturally and historically significant historic district,” according to the bill text.

State Senator Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) has also introduced an ADU-related bill, S.B. 1069. The current language of the bill doesn’t say much, except that it would add findings to the state’s Planning and Zoning Law that ADUs add to the housing supply. It’s likely that this is placeholder language for a more substantive bill later on. Wieckowski, however, is no fan of parking minimums. During the fight over AB 744 last year, which would have reduced parking requirements for affordable housing developments, Wieckowski called out cities for using parking minimums as obstructionist measures.

Housing advocates have pushed for relaxed restrictions around ADUs because many see them as a low-rise, relatively low density solution to providing much needed housing. As Professor of Architecture/Urban Design and Urban Planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs Dana Cuff noted last year at a KPCC panel on the housing crisis, in a city like Los Angeles, with about one million single family homes, if even ten percent of homeowners were able to build ADUs, it would make a significant dent in the regional housing shortage.

A.B. 2501: This bill, co-authored by Assemblymember Tom Daly (D-Anaheim), would streamline and strengthen the state’s density bonus law. It actually would do quite a bit, according to Bloom’s office, including:

  • Clarifying that the intent of the law is to encourage the development of affordable housing and that the incentives provided for in the law are available “by right,” meaning they require no special approval by commissions or city councils, to developers who build affordable units.
  • Ensuring that local governments process density bonus applications expeditiously and establish certainty that inaction by the local government will not delay a proposed housing development.
  • Clarifying that an applicant for a density bonus need only demonstrate that requested incentives reduce the cost of development.
  • Increasing the certainty regarding the number of additional units a developer is allowed to build in exchange for providing affordable units.
  • Limiting the ability of local governments to impose additional requirements on density bonus developers that do not increase a development project’s feasibility.

A.B. 2522: According to Bloom’s office, this billthe language for which hasn’t yet been published onlinewould “require by-right approval by cities and counties of any market rate rental housing project that includes at least 20 percent low-income housing or 100 percent moderate-income housing.”

According to Bloom’s office, “The by-right approval would apply to attached housing projects proposed for sites already designated by the city or county in the housing element for housing, in urban areas, and subject to consistency with written up-front general plan, zoning, and design criteria.”

There are a number of other bills that appear to have to do with housing on the docket in both the State Senate and State Assembly, but details on many of them are still scarce as lawmakers are finalizing the language. As it becomes clearer which laws will go to the floor, we will take a closer look at those relating to housing.

While the housing shortage is a statewide problem, Santa Monica, Bloom’s home city, is particularly affected. Over the last four years, anti-growth activists have killed at least five projects that would have added a total of more than 1,000 new homes to the city without displacing any current residents.

The lack of housing growth in Santa Monica, where Bloom sat on the city council from 1999 until he was elected to the State Assembly in 2012, combined with an excellent job market and overall high desirability, has translated into steadily climbing rents. In fact, housing costs in Santa Monica are some of the highest in Southern California, increasingly forcing out low- and moderate-income families. It’s a microcosm of what’s happening across the state.

Los Angeles, for example, has been heading in this direction as a result of widespread downzoning in the 1980s and 1990s that saw L.A.’s planned potential population capacity shrink from about 10 million people to about 4 million people. Local opposition to growth in places like Los Angeles and San Francisco have resulted in a major uptick in displacement of lower-income households farther and farther from transit access and jobs.

Experts have argued that a regional or statewide approach to zoning is needed to trump local zoning laws, which tend to exacerbate economic segregation and encourage sprawl.

  • Mrs.Phelan

    San Francisco legalized in-law apartments in 2015, the homeowner needed only to go to DBI and go through a process to make their in-laws legal. Of an estimated 30,000 illegal in-law apartments in San Francisco only 30 have chosen to make them legal.
    The biggest drawback for owners considering an ADU in San Francisco and Santa Monica are rent control, and more importantly “just cause” eviction requirements.
    If you get a tenant you have them for LIFE. If you get a pain in the ass (stories of nightmare tenants are rife in SF) who plays his stereo loud, cooks repugnant foods (remember, this is a house you cannot “smell proof” you in-law unit and it is often under the owners bedrooms) encroaches on space he is not entitled to (your garage) you are stuck. If you later want to move in a grandchild or care giver you can’t, this is prohibited by law.
    These negative repercussions are PERMANENTLY attached to your house – i.e. you cannot sell the house without also including the tenant and you can never return the house to a single family home again. A homeowner’s only recourse is to Ellis Act your OWN home – many people in San Francisco have been forced to do just this to get back use and enjoyment (i.e. get rid of the crazy/obnoxious/dangerous tenant) of their own home!
    In-law owners need to be able to lease to a tenant for a fixed period of time – a year or two at a time – so if it doesn’t work out the owner can get back their home.

    • William Ballough

      Limiting tenancy of an ADR to a set time is an interesting solution. It probably would not be adopted in those cities where rent is reset when the tenant moves.

  • Alexis Xavier Rivas

    These efforts to make accessory dwelling units an option for more home owners is important. Its a way to increase the housing supply in an organic way that doesn’t put massive localized strain on infrastructure.

    The process to design, permit, and build these structures can still be a challenging one. Cover handles everything from design right up to installation http://www.cover.build

  • BVinLA

    Frankly I think the slumlords are enjoying these high rents and paying politicians well to stonewall any real change.

  • GlobalLA

    I support these efforts for more housing, but without the “teeth” to implement these policies it’s nothing more than another show.

    Nothing in these bills address the issues of local politics and how masses of NIMBYs in city hall can still intimidate council members/developers. If you thought BLM or Trump supporters were bad, go to a public meeting on a large local development project.

    While these bills can help, a big part of the problem is local leadership and how CEQA has incubated a culture of poor city planning.

    People need to understand that CEQA has been a far more transformational legislative act and that’s where the focus should be now. Focus on the root cause (CEQA) instead of all these bills which are nothing more than mitigating addendums to CEQA.

    • I agree that CEQA reform is important, but if you could require that all single-family homeowners in the state be allowed to build a second dwelling unit no matter what the local zoning says, that would be huge. California has about 8 million detached housing units according to the latest American Community Survey. If just 10% of those single-family lots saw construction of a second unit, that would be 800,000 housing units (which is roughly the population of San Francisco), all on existing urbanized land. The key is the law has to be written in a way that prevents the locals from piling on regulations that defeat the intent of the law.

      • GlobalLA

        Interesting idea but I think that would be very limited in several ways. First, it’s not really huge when all you are doing is doubling the number of housing units, if and only if homeowners did build second dwellings. We need tens of thousands of units and spreading them out by an extra dwelling per SFR lot is not only too slow to absorb demand and capacity, but also perpetuates further sprawl by riding growth along SFR tracts. Second, following growth patterns along current low-density areas totally ignore existing and future mass transit access and high-density areas that need further growth (as to effectively utilize our land-use/transportation integration strategies). I totally agree with your last sentence.

  • Marko Allegretti

    Much the same here in Sydney, Australia. Local councils have been taken out of the equation and now it is quick and easy to get a granny flat built.

  • All of these bills sound awesome. Local governments can and too often do use their general plans and zoning to strangle housing development. The state represents everyone from rich to poor whereas local governments can build whatever constituency they want (i.e. as rich as possible) through exclusionary policies. Unfortunately the state does need to reduce local land use authority if we are going to solve the housing crisis. NIMBYs are just too strong at the local level.

  • Joe Linton

    These look like great no-nonsense solutions! Kudos to Bloom. I hope they get passed and implemented asap.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Bloom and his colleagues spoke Friday about action the State legislature will be taking to address California’s worsening housing crisis. Photo courtesy of Assemblymember Bloom’s office.

State Legislators Put California’s Housing Crisis in the Crosshairs

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At a press conference in San Francisco Friday, state legislators announced their plans to tackle California’s growing housing crisis. As a lack of new housing construction continues to make California unaffordable for all but the wealthiest households, Assemblymembers Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters), Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), and Kevin Mullin […]