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Thursday, June 28, 2007

State Senate Bill Would Impose Growth on Cities

At Tuesday's Davis City Council Meeting, Councilmember Don Saylor reported on SB 303, a bill in California's State Senate, that has significant land use implications for a number of cities. Councilmember Saylor learned about this bill from the League of California Cities.

This bill, authored by State Senator Denise Ducheny, has already passed the Senate committee in March. It figures to have much stronger opposition in the Assembly. It may be heard as early as July 3 in the Assembly Committee on Local Government. It has also been referred to the Assembly Committee on Housing and Community Development.

Senator Ducheny, a Democrat, has entitled the bill "The Housing Affordability Act."

According to her release:
"The new legislation is designed to ensure responsible planning, require full compliance with environmental laws and boost affordable housing for all income levels. Local and regional governments will maintain control of the current process for determining how much housing is needed (Regional Housing Needs Assessment, RHNA) and where it will go. Now, however, the land will be zoned when the site for housing is chosen by the local community."
However, the League of California Cities among hundreds of individual cities, environmental groups, have come out in very strong opposition to this legislation precisely because they fear it will take away local and regional government control over assessing housing needs. Specifically they are concerned about some of the provisions that will require the housing element to cover a 10 year rather than a five year period.

In essence, it requires the worst of all worlds. The housing element will continue to be updated every five years. However, the period that the "regional housing needs assessment" will cover is a 10-year period, meaning that the housing element will not be required to accommodate 10 year housing needs rather than five. The fear is that these projects will become front-loaded in the planning stage, and the rate of growth will increase dramatically as a result.

Moreover, they will now require the zoning for the housing element update to done concurrent with the housing element update. In other words, the projects will be essentially zoned and ready to go at the beginning of the five year period, further adding to the effect of front loading the housing at the beginning of the ten year period, in effect increasing the growth of most locales.

According to the League of California cities:
"The combination of extending the RHNA to ten years and requiring upfront zoning will trigger significant sprawl because no time is provided to phase in the availability of housing sites."
This legislation appears to be the counterpart of the concern about the county's general plan update designating various joint-study areas that would eventually look at changing zoning by the county on key properties on Davis' periphery. It would be tantamount to state mandated growth.

With the strong and growing opposition by the League of California Cities and the apparent stronger opposition in the State Assembly, the prospects of this legislation fortunately appear to be diminishing.

However, at this point there appears to be some concern as to who the sponsor of this legislation is, or more importantly, who works for State Senator Denise Ducheny as her chief of staff. That would be John Ferrera, a Davis resident, who is a candidate for the 4th District Yolo County Supervisor Seat.

There are a number of tough questions that need to be addressed regarding this legislation, but also the philosophy behind it.

The County and City have been at odds during their general plan update precisely over the principle as to who should determine growth on the periphery of cities. Now we have the state sticking their nose into local land use decisions as well. That's not to suggest that there are not good intentions behind designing a bill that would improve the housing supply and increase the amount of affordable housing. However, such legislation has a very different impact on smaller cities than it does on large cities.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting