In the session that ended Sept. 14, the California Legislature has passed bills that would strengthen the connection between water supply and land use planning, place restrictions on how long redevelopment agencies can keep operating, and shut down the "certificates of compliance" loophole in the Subdivision Map Act being used by Hearst Ranch and others. The question of whether Gov. Gray Davis will sign the subdivision and redevelopment bills in particular is sparking keen interest in land-use circles.
Overall, it was a light year for land use bills, with only about two dozen other bills being passed before the Legislature closed its regular session for the year in the early morning of September 15. The Legislature did not approve school bonds, but it did decide to place a $2.6 billion park bond on the March 2002 ballot. Lawmakers did not make any significant changes to the California Environmental Quality Act.
The top 10 land use bills approved by the California Legislature during 2001:
• SB 221
(Kuehl) requires that cities or counties obtain proof that a sufficient water supply is available for any subdivision of at least 500 lots. The bill specifies that if groundwater is to serve as a subdivision's source, a public water system must evaluate the landowners' right to extract the water. The bill exempts redevelopment and low-income housing projects. The measure is a companion to SB 610
(Costa) and SB 672
(Machado). The Costa bill attempts to close loopholes in SB 901
from 1995, which required local governments to assess whether water was available for projects of 500 or more units. The Machado bill orders the Department of Water Resources to report on water projects in each hydrologic region of the state and to pursue alternative water projects, such as desalination, water recycling, new treatment facilities.
• SB 497
(Sher) amends the lot line exemption within the Subdivision Map Act. The bill prohibits landowners from using certificates of compliance to reconfigure old subdivisions of at least five parcels. The key language in the bill was added in August after the Hearst Corp. revealed that it would seek certificates of compliance for 279 parcels on the Hearst Ranch in San Luis Obispo County, greatly increasing the land's value. Real estate, development and forestry interests strongly fought the bill, which faces an uncertain fate on the governor's desk.
• SB 211
(Torlakson) allows redevelopment agencies with project areas that will expire to continue doing business for an additional 10 years. To be eligible for the extension, an agency cannot have surplus funds, it must have a state-approved housing element, and it must make a finding that significant blight remains. Under the extension, the agency must set aside 30% of tax increment revenue for low- and very low-income housing (as compared with the usual requirement of 20% for low- and moderate-income housing), and it allows state agencies, counties and special districts to ask the attorney general to review agency requests for extensions. Under current law, the majority of the state's redevelopment project areas cannot issue new debt after 2004, and the redevelopment plans sunset in 2009. The Department of Finance is opposed to bill because of processing costs and the loss of future revenue.
• AB 637
(Lowenthall) makes a number of changes to housing requirements in redevelopment law. The bill eliminates the January 1 sunset date for the 15% inclusionary housing requirement, mandates that redevelopment agencies leverage their housing spending with private and commercial financing, and require that housing units provided by agencies remain affordable for up to 55 years.
• SB 1098
(Alarcon) prohibits cities and counties from extending beyond 45 days a moratorium on housing projects that have large multi-family components. A city or county could extend the moratorium only if it makes specific findings based on substantial evidence that the moratorium was the only way to avoid significant, quantifiable health and safety impacts. Local governments oppose the bill, saying the measure is too broad and unnecessary. Governor Davis vetoed a similar bill last year.
• AB 369
(Dutra) allows courts to award attorneys' fees against local governments that that violate the anti-NIMBY law. Developers or housing advocates would be eligible for receiving attorneys' fees after winning a lawsuit. The governor has already signed the bill.
• AB 1367
(Wiggins) establishes a meet-and-confer process between school districts and the cities or counties in which the district is located. The bill requires school district to provide local government with at least 45 days notice before adopting long-range development plans, and allows either side to call a meeting to discuss the plans.
• AB 545
(Steinberg) requires the state, when leasing, purchasing or constructing state government office buildings, to consider the availability of public transit, proximity to affordable housing, pedestrian access to retail businesses, and the need for an area's economic revitalization. The bill gives priority to use of buildings with historic, architectural or cultural significance. It also requires state-owned office buildings, when feasible, to include ground-floor retail or other amenities to serve pedestrians. The governor vetoed a similar bill last year.
• AB 93
(Wayne) creates the San Diego Regional Airport Authority. The new nine-member, appointed entity will have exclusive authority to plan, build and operate regional airports in San Diego County. The bill removes the Port of San Diego and the San Diego Association of Governments from the process of planning a new airport to replace Lindbergh Field in San Diego.
• AB 1602
(Keeley) is a $2.6 billion park and natural resources bond. About half the money would fund parks and museums, while state land conservancies would receive $445 million. The remaining money would pay for restoring lakes, rivers and wetlands, protecting farmland and reducing air pollution in state parks. If Gov. Davis signs the bill, voters would decide on the bond measure in March 2002.