BILL ANALYSIS SENATE LOCAL GOVERNMENT COMMITTEE Senator Dave Cox, Chair BILL NO: SB 1319 HEARING: 4/19/10 AUTHOR: Pavley FISCAL: No VERSION: 4/13/10 CONSULTANT: Detwiler SUBDIVISION MERGERS Background and Existing Law The Subdivision Map Act controls how local officials approve property owners' proposals to create smaller lots out of larger parcels. The Map Act also describes several methods for reversing that process, including reversions to acreage, resubdivisions, local options, and parcel merger. Reversion to acreage. Either the property owner or the city or county can start proceedings to revert subdivided land back to acreage. The statutory procedures for a reversion require the city council or county board of supervisors to hold a publicly noticed hearing and make findings. Resubdivision. As an alternative to reversion, a city council or county board of supervisors can adopt an ordinance that allows property owners to resubdivide their property by filing new parcel maps or new tentative subdivision maps. This procedure results in merging formerly separate lots without reverting them to acreage. Local option. Another alternative allows a city council or county board of supervisors to adopt an ordinance that allows property owners to merge contiguous parcels that are under common ownership, requiring only the recordation of a merger document. Merger. The merger of previously subdivided parcels is a formal proceeding that requires the city council or county board of supervisors to adopt an ordinance that spells out the conditions under which the city or county can force the merger of contiguous parcels under the same ownership. At least one of the affected parcels must be undeveloped, developed with only an accessory structure, or developed with a structure that straddles the property lines. One of the parcels must meet at least one of seven named conditions. Before local officials can order a SB 1319 -- 4/13/10 -- Page 2 merger, there must be publicly noticed hearings. At an interim hearing in 1986, the Senate Local Government Committee reviewed "California's Hidden Land Use Problem: The Redevelopment of Antiquated Subdivisions." Legislators learned that local officials had created more than 400,000 parcels that were still vacant, but "too small, too remote, or too dangerous to build on." Private investors explained the difficulties they faced in assembling parcels and resubdividing them into marketable lots. A subsequent proposal to enact a bold "land readjustment law" failed, but legislators made other statutory improvements. Electrical utilities --- both investor owned and public agencies --- want to expand their capacity to generate electricity from renewable sources, including solar and wind energy. Commercial scale alternative energy generating facilities often require large pieces of flat property near existing power lines. Conservationists want to discourage alternative energy facilities from locating on productive farmland or desert habitat. They want to find alternative locations that would be suitable without further disturbing habitat or agricultural land. Combining the unbuildable lots in antiquated subdivisions could create these sites. Proposed Law Senate Bill 1319 allows a city council or county board of supervisors to adopt a local ordinance that lets the owner of contiguous parcels merge them, without complying with the Subdivision Map Act's provisions, by recording an instrument of conveyance or security. Comments 1. Voluntary merger . Formal parcel mergers --- one way to combine contiguous lots --- requires the city council or county board of supervisors to hold extensive hearings and make detailed findings. These sections in the Subdivision Map Act implicitly assume that the affected property owners will resist merger because they want to keep their parcels separate for future sale or development opportunity. SB 1319 creates another voluntary method for property owners SB 1319 -- 4/13/10 -- Page 3 to willingly combine their substandard lots into developable parcels. No one can force property owners to use the bill's new method if they don't want to. 2. Not the answer . Assembling enough parcels to develop alternative energy facilities is a useful goal, especially if it converts antiquated subdivision lots into productive uses. Success will require a clear vision of what's needed, access to sufficient credit and working capital, sound real estate management, and plenty of patience. But there are no obvious statutory obstacles. Public agencies can use the Joint Exercise of Powers Act to form confederations that can raise the needed funds. Local officials can use the Community Redevelopment Law to eliminate the blight caused by substandard and irregular lots. The Subdivision Map Act provides several ways to combine parcels. If legislators want to help local officials and utilities find good locations for alternative energy facilities, they should direct the California Energy Commission to provide property owners and utilities the needed financial help and technical assistance. 3. Not much . SB 1319 doesn't provide property owners with any real opportunities that they don't have. The Map Act already gives property owners at least three ways to combine their lots: reversion, resubdivision, and local option ordinances. Formal mergers attract property owners resistance for good reasons: the procedures and standards are more burdensome that the existing statutory alternatives. Although SB 1319 doesn't harm private property rights, it doesn't do much to help property owners either. Support and Opposition (4/15/10) Support : The Nature Conservancy. Opposition : Unknown.