BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    



                                                                    AB 1500


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          Date of Hearing:  April 27, 2015


                       ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE ON NATURAL RESOURCES


                                 Das Williams, Chair


          AB 1500  
          (Maienschein) - As Amended April 16, 2015


          SUBJECT:  California Environmental Quality Act:  priority  
          housing projects:  exemption


          SUMMARY:  Exempts from CEQA any "priority housing project," as  
          defined, regardless of the size or location of the project.  


          EXISTING LAW:  


          1)CEQA requires lead agencies with the principal responsibility  
            for carrying out or approving a proposed project to prepare a  
            negative declaration, mitigated negative declaration, or  
            environmental impact report (EIR) for this action, unless the  
            project is exempt from CEQA (CEQA includes various statutory  
            exemptions, as well as categorical exemptions in the CEQA  
            guidelines).

          2)Exempts from CEQA any residential development project,  
            including any subdivision, or any zoning change that is  
            undertaken to implement and is consistent with a specific plan  
            for which an EIR has been certified after January 1, 1980,  
            unless substantial changes or new information require the  
            preparation of a supplemental EIR for the specific plan, in  
            which case the exemption applies once the supplemental EIR is  








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            certified.


          3)Requires cities and counties to accommodate their need for  
            emergency shelters on sites where the use is allowed without a  
            conditional use permit (i.e., approval is non-discretionary,  
            and therefore not subject to CEQA) and requires cities and  
            counties to treat transitional and supportive housing projects  
            as a residential use of property.  [SB 2 (Cedillo), Chapter  
            633, Statutes of 2007]

          4)Exempts from CEQA specified residential housing projects which  
            meet detailed criteria established to ensure the project does  
            not have a significant effect on the environment.  [SB 1925  
            (Sher), Chapter 1039, Statutes of 2002]  The SB 1925  
            exemptions are available to:  

             a)   affordable agricultural housing projects not more than  
               45 units within a city, or 20 units within an agricultural  
               zone, on a site not more than five acres in size; 

             b)   urban affordable housing projects not more than 100  
               units on a site not more than five acres in size; and,

             c)   urban infill housing projects not more than 100 units on  
               a site not more than four acres in size which is within  
               one-half mile of a major transit stop.

          5)Requires metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to include  
            a sustainable communities strategy (SCS), as defined, in their  
            regional transportation plans, or an alternative planning  
            strategy (APS), for the purpose of reducing GHG emissions,  
            aligns planning for transportation and housing, and creates  
            specified incentives for the implementation of the strategies,  
            including CEQA exemption or abbreviated review for residential  
            or mixed-use residential "transit priority projects" if the  
            project is consistent with the use designation, density,  
            building intensity, and applicable policies specified for the  
            project area in either an approved SCS or APS.  [SB 375  








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            (Steinberg), Chapter 728, Statutes of 2008]  

          6)Establishes abbreviated CEQA review procedures for specified  
            infill projects, where only specific or more significant  
            effects on the environment which were not addressed in a prior  
            planning-level EIR need be addressed.  An EIR for such a  
            project need not consider alternative locations, densities,  
            and building intensities or growth-inducing impacts.  Infill  
            projects may include residential, retail, commercial, transit  
            station, school, or public office building projects located  
            within an urban area.  [SB 226 (Simitian), Chapter 469,  
            Statutes of 2011]  SB 226 requires OPR to develop CEQA  
            guidelines to implement its infill provisions, including  
            statewide standards to promote smart growth, reduction of  
            greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, reduction in water use, energy  
            efficiency improvements and protection of public health.

          7)Exempts from CEQA residential, mixed-use, and "employment  
            center" projects, as defined, located within "transit priority  
            areas," as defined, if the project is consistent with an  
            adopted specific plan and specified elements of a SCS or APS  
            adopted pursuant to SB 375.  [SB 743 (Steinberg), Chapter 386,  
            Statutes of 2013]

          THIS BILL:

          1)Exempts from CEQA a "priority housing project" if all the  
            following conditions are met:

               a)     The project does not result in a net loss in the  
                 number of affordable housing units in the project area.

               b)     The lead agency has filed a notice of determination  
                 with OPR.



               c)     The city or county has adopted a housing element  
                 approved by the Department of Housing and Community  








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                 Development and is in compliance with the housing element  
                 portion of its annual general plan report.

          2)Defines "priority housing project" as any activity or approval  
            necessary for, or incidental to, the development, planning,  
            design, site acquisition, subdivision, financing, leasing,  
            construction, operation, or maintenance of an emergency  
            shelter, transitional housing, supportive housing, low-income  
            housing, or associated development, including any accessory  
            roadway, utility, or other improvement to that shelter,  
            housing, or associated development.

          3)Defines "low-income housing" as housing with at least 20% of  
            the units affordable to low, very low, or extremely low income  
            households.

          FISCAL EFFECT:  Unknown


          COMMENTS:  


          1)Background.  CEQA provides a process for evaluating the  
            environmental effects of applicable projects undertaken or  
            approved by public agencies.  If a project is not exempt from  
            CEQA, an initial study is prepared to determine whether the  
            project may have a significant effect on the environment.  If  
            the initial study shows that the project would not have a  
            significant effect on the environment, the lead agency must  
            prepare a negative declaration. If the initial study shows  
            that the project may have a significant effect, the lead  
            agency must prepare an EIR.  


             Generally, an EIR must accurately describe the proposed  
            project, identify and analyze each significant environmental  
            impact expected to result from the proposed project, identify  
            mitigation measures to reduce those impacts to the extent  
            feasible, and evaluate a range of reasonable alternatives to  








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            the proposed project.  Prior to approving any project that has  
            received environmental review, an agency must make certain  
            findings.  If mitigation measures are required or incorporated  
            into a project, the agency must adopt a reporting or  
            monitoring program to ensure compliance with those measures.  


             CEQA includes various statutory exemptions, as well as  
            categorical exemptions in the CEQA Guidelines.  SB 1925 (2002)  
            established CEQA exemptions for certain residential projects  
            providing affordable urban or agricultural housing, or located  
            on an infill site within an urbanized area, and meeting  
            specified unit and acreage criteria.  The stated intent of the  
            Legislature in enacting those provisions included "creating a  
            streamlined procedure for agricultural employee housing,  
            affordable housing, and urban infill housing projects that do  
            not have an adverse effect on the environment."  For purposes  
            of qualifying for the CEQA exemption for affordable housing,  
            among other criteria projects must be located within an  
            urbanized area, not more than five acres in area, and fewer  
            than 100 units.


            Since then, additional legislation has provided CEQA  
            exemptions and streamlining for residential (not specific to,  
            but including, affordable housing) and certain other projects  
            in infill areas.  SB 375 (2008) provided a CEQA exemption for  
            a narrow set of eligible residential projects in infill areas  
            adjacent to transit.  SB 226 (2011) provided abbreviated CEQA  
            review procedures for a broader set of urban infill projects,  
            including retail, commercial, and public buildings.  SB 743  
            (2013) established a new exemption for residential, mixed-use  
            and "employment center" projects located within one-half mile  
            of a major transit stop, if the project is consistent with an  
            adopted specific plan and specified elements of a SB 375  
            strategy.  SB 743 also required OPR to propose revisions to  
            the CEQA Guidelines for transportation impacts to better  
            support infill development. 









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            This bill provides a complete exemption for priority housing  
            projects, regardless of location or size.  Priority housing  
            includes emergency shelters, transitional housing, supportive  
            housing, low-income housing, and associated development.  A  
            housing project consisting of at least 20% low-income housing  
            is eligible, though the entire project, including as much as  
            80% non-affordable housing, would be exempt.  The bill is  
            unclear regarding what "associated development" might include  
            and whether mixed-use or other projects that include housing  
            and non-housing development would be covered by the exemption.


          2)Author's statement:
               California has the largest population of persons  
               experiencing homelessness of any state in the country.  The  
               Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reported  
               that on a single night in 2008, California communities  
               counting people living on the streets or in shelters  
               reported a total of 157,277 homeless persons.  Over 380,000  
               people are homeless for some period of time during the  
               course of each year in California.  The state has one of  
               the highest rates of homelessness, with one in every 230  
               residents homeless at any point in time, and one in every  
               95 residents homeless at some point during the course of a  
               year.  In the rest of the country, most homeless people are  
               sheltered, temporarily living in shelters or in  
               transitional housing.  In California, 70 percent of  
               homeless people live unsheltered, the largest percentage in  
               the nation.


               An LAO report entitled "California's High Housing Costs:  
               Causes and Consequences" was published on March 17th, 2015  
               and identified CEQA as a major contributor to the state's  
               high cost of housing.  Unlike other major development  
               projects, homeless complex projects do not have a high  
               potential for profits upon completion and are less worth  
               the costs incurred with CEQA challenges.








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               According to the San Jose Mercury news, when the city  
               shutdown the notorious homeless encampment known as "The  
               Jungle," they discovered that many of its inhabitants were  
               actually receiving housing subsidies but were unable to  
               find housing to use the subsidies for.  The severe shortage  
               of affordable housing and shelters has resulted in many  
               homeless people across the state who are not being helped  
               even though they are eligible and receiving benefits  
               designed to get them off the streets and into stable  
               housing.


          3)LAO housing report.  The LAO report cited by the author  
            includes the following statements in a section entitled "Why  
            Do Coastal Areas Not Build Enough Housing?":
               (CEQA) requires local governments to conduct a detailed  
               review of the potential environmental effects of new  
               housing construction (and most other types of development)  
               prior to approving it.  The information in these reports  
               sometimes results in the city or county denying proposals  
               to develop housing or approving fewer housing units than  
               the developer proposed.  In addition, CEQA's complicated  
               procedural requirements give development opponents  
               significant opportunities to continue challenging housing  
               projects after local governments have approved them.


               Our review of CEQA documents submitted to the state by  
               California's ten largest cites between 2004-2013 indicates  
               that local agencies took, on average, around two and a half  
               years to approve housing projects that required an EIR.   
               The CEQA process also, in some cases, results in developers  
               reducing the size and scope of a project in response to  
               concerns discovered during the review process.


            The LAO report did not include any specific examples or data.   








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            It also makes no reference to the vast majority of housing  
            projects that do not require an EIR, because they are exempt  
            from CEQA or approved via a negative declaration.


          4)OPR survey indicates CEQA is not a significant barrier to  
            infill projects.  OPR's "2012 Annual Planning Survey Results"  
            asked city and county planners to explain the primary barriers  
            their jurisdiction has experienced to implementing infill  
            projects.  Based on 238 responses, 25% of jurisdictions  
            reported that infrastructure constraints were a primary  
            barrier to implementing infill projects.  Just under 25%  
            reported that they had problems with assembling parcels of the  
            right size and configuration for infill development.  Only 4%  
            of respondents identified CEQA as a barrier.
          REGISTERED SUPPORT / OPPOSITION:




          Support


          California Housing Consortium




          Opposition


          Brandt-Hawley Law Group


          California Labor Federation


          California State Pipe Trades Council









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          Center for Biological Diversity


          Environmental Defense Center


          Natural Resources Defense Council


          Planning and Conservation League


          Shute, Mihaly and Weinberger LLP


          Sierra Club California


          State Building and Construction Trades Council of California







          Analysis Prepared by:Lawrence Lingbloom / NAT. RES. / (916)  
          319-2092


















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