Developers can expect more friendly zoning with new housing law

The bill signed by the governor requires officials to zone for housing to meet local need

State Senator Scott Wiener and construction
State Senator Scott Wiener and construction

A pair of bills California’s governor has approved could lead to more dense zoning across California, which would be a boon for developers.

On Sunday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 828, which requires that local governments zone to accommodate 100 percent of the projected local housing need if they haven’t already. The bill’s author, State Senator Scott Wiener, originally wanted that to be 200 percent of local housing need, but it was reduced in debates in Sacramento.

The governor also signed into law Assembly Bill 1771, which requires more data be used when determining local need. The law tries to ensure that local governments are not able to massage numbers to reduce the amount of required residential zoning.

Possibly the most impactful measure in SB 828 for developers requires that local governments zone for existing need, not just future need. The previous law only called for local governments to zone for future need. For example, if a city was short 2,000 units and projected an increase of 1,000 residents in the coming years, it would only have to zone for those 1,000 additional residents. Now it will be required to also zone for the existing 2,000 units needed.

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An official familiar with SB 828 projected that the new law in some cases could result in a 150 percent boost in the number of units local governments will need to accommodate.

The bill is meant to help alleviate the housing crisis in California by allowing the state to build itself out of its shortage. The lack of needed housing has caused rents and home prices to skyrocket, which has prompted other campaigns like Proposition 10, which would allow governments across the state to enact new rent regulation laws.

Developers around the state could see more dense residential zoning in cities that previously had few development opportunities. Local governments will have less power to oppose densification.

The real estate industry has come out in support of SB 828. The California Association of Realtors and the California Apartment Association — a trade organization for multifamily owners — have thrown their names behind the bill. HKS Architects, a respected design firm in L.A., also supports the bill. Even Facebook has expressed support for the bill.

But a number of local cities — including L.A., Long Beach and Redondo Beach — strongly opposed the bill, mostly because it would transfer planning powers away from local governments and into the hands of the state. Some neighborhood groups, including United Neighborhoods of L.A. and Coalition to Preserve L.A., also said they were against it.

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