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.