State lawmakers approved few pieces of substantial land use legislation before adjourning for the year in September. Nearly all of the high-profile proposals became two-year bills, meaning they will be revived in some form after the Legislature returns in January.

Some of the approved bills that could have the largest impact on land use, directly and indirectly, were Sen. Dean Florez’s package of legislation addressing San Joaquin Valley air pollution. Five pieces of his 10-bill package were approved, including the centerpiece AB 700, which ended farms’ exemption from air pollution regulations (seeCP&DR Environment Watch, April 2002).

However, bills addressing housing, urban growth boundaries, Indian sacred sites and the two-thirds vote requirement for local taxes failed to reach the governor’s desk. Lobbyists and Capitol insiders pointed to the huge budget deficit, the recall, ever-increasing partisanship and the lack of interest in land use among the Legislature’s leaders as factors for the slow year.

“I think our bills started going south because of the budget deficit, not because of the recall,” said Julie Spezia, executive director of the California Futures Network, a coalition of “smart growth” organizations. “Pretty much everything that was really meaningful became a two-year bill.”

California Building Industry Association Vice President Tim Coyle agreed that little land use legislation of substance came out of this year’s session — which was fine from the CBIA’s perspective. “I think it’s fair to say that we played a lot of defense this year,” Coyle said.

Still, a number of bills that at least tinkered with various parts of California’s land use regulatory system were passed, and Gov. Davis had already signed some of them by late September. Unlike the previous four years, Davis was vetoing few bills.

Housing advocates had hoped for a big year, as lawmakers introduced scores of housing bills (see CP&DR, April 2003). But after many of the sweeping housing proposals become two-year bills, housing advocates’ major victory appeared to lie in SB 619 (Ducheny) — and it was watered down. Essentially, the measure makes a multi-family housing development of up to 100 units with a substantial percentage of affordable units (10% very low-income, 20% low-income or 50% moderate income) a permitted use in multi-family zoning districts. A city or county cannot require a conditional use permit for such a project so long as the project is on an infill site in an urbanized area and does not need an environmental impact report. Supporters said the bill would streamline the regulatory approval process for affordable housing developments and prevent local governments from discriminating against affordable housing projects.

One high-profile housing bill that nearly won approval was AB 1426 (Steinberg), which would have required that very low- or low-income housing constitute 10% of all new housing in the six-county Sacramento region. The measure passed in the Assembly but stalled at the last minute in the Senate in the face of opposition from builders and local governments — some of which had voiced at least luke-warm support for the bill earlier. Cities and counties complained about another mandate on local government, while builders were concerned that the bill would require use of inclusionary zoning to produce the affordable units.

Steinberg aide Gary Davis said that the Sacramento lawmaker, rather than jam through AB 1426 over the opposition, would consider amendments proposed by developers. But there is no doubt the bill will be back in some form, and it could set an affordable housing production precedent for the rest of the state.

Smart growth advocates pointed to two school bills as their biggest victories of the year. Assembly Bill 1244 (Chu) allows schools to apply for facility modernization money every 25 years, rather than just once. Assembly Bill 1631 (Salinas) drops the requirement that a conversion of a single-story school to a multi-story building also comes with a switch to a multi-track system. The idea behind both bills is to improve schools in existing urban areas, said Spezia.

“We put quite a bit of energy into the schools issue,” she said. “A lot of people flee to the suburbs because of the perception — and it might be true sometimes — that their children will receive a better education.”

Assemblywoman Patricia Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa), who heads the Smart Growth Caucus, did not get far with her AB 1268. That measure would require cities and counties to adopt 20-year urban growth boundaries and inclusionary zoning to ensure that 20% of new units are for very low- or low-income residents. The bill is likely to return in some form next year, although the details could be substantially different.

Coyle said AB 1268 amounted to diminishing the supply of land and then taxing builders to make up for the loss. “It’s one of the most absurd ideas I’ve ever seen,” he complained.

A bill that sets a precedent for consideration of air pollution in general plans won approval. Assembly Bill 170 (Reyes) requires counties and cities in the eight-county San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District to amend their general plans to describe local air quality conditions, summarize existing air quality policies and programs, set goals, policies and objectives to improve air quality, and contain feasible implementation measures.

The League of California Cities opposed AB 170 because of the precedent. The League also argued that the state was sending conflicting signals. “To comply with this bill, communities that embrace air pollution control as paramount and modify their general plans accordingly could easily be accused of being anti-housing at the same time,” stated a letter from the League to lawmakers.

Kern County Planning Director Ted James said he was concerned that air quality data that AB 170 requires to be placed in a general plan could become outdated in only a few years, making the general plan subject to legal challenge. The bill is another sign that lawmakers “view the general plan as the panacea for resolving everything,” James added.

But the San Joaquin Valley air district backed the bill. “It strengthens the link in peoples’ minds between land use planning and air quality,” said district spokeswoman Josette Merced Bello. “That’s something we’re always working on with the cities and counties.”

The complaints about AB 170 were minor compared with the outcry from cities, counties, farmers, developers and business leaders over the 10-bill package of Central Valley air bills by Sen. Dean Florez (D-Shafter). In the end, lawmakers approved half of the measures, and the governor signed them all at once in late September:

• SB 700, which ends agriculture’s exemption from air quality regulations.
• SB 704, which provides $6 million in incentives for biomass facilities to accept agricultural waste
• SB 705, which phases out open-field burning of farm fields
• SB 708, which increases fines on polluting vehicles.
• SB 709, which increases the authority of the San Joaquin Valley air district in several ways.

The debate over the bills was cast as economy versus environment, and several Democratic lawmakers from the valley and from inner cities refused to support the legislation. One Florez bill that did not pass this year was SB 707, which would prohibit dairies within three miles of a city or school in most instances. That bill divided local governments with, for example, Kern County in opposition but the county seat of Bakersfield in support. The bill is likely to return in 2004.

A farm-related bill that did pass was AB 1492. It concerns breaches of Williamson Act contracts, which prohibit development for 10 years in exchange for property tax breaks. A survey by the office of author John Laird (D-Santa Cruz) and the Department of Conservation found a number of places where development — including apartment buildings and even a shopping mall in Tracy — had occurred on land still enjoying Williamson Act tax breaks. At first, the bill attempted to address existing and future violations, but after meeting stiff opposition from builders and real estate interests, Laird amended the bill to apply only to violations after January 1, 2004. The bill establishes a process local officials must implement to remove a property from Williamson Act protection when development of protected land occurs and doubles the penalties for contract breaches.

Lawmakers also approved, and the governor signed, AB 1347 (Maze), which requires local governments to account for fees received through development agreements in the same fashion as other impact fees. Coyle, of the CBIA, which backed the measure, called it a “good government accountability bill.” However, many development agreements say only that the money collected is to be spent at the discretion of the local government.

The most controversial land use bill of the entire session might have been SB 18 (Burton), which would have required an expanded Native American Heritage Commission to review developments proposed within five miles of a “traditional tribal cultural site.” Supporters said the bill was necessary to protect sacred sites. Opponents argued the bill was too far-reaching, supplanted local authority and made the California Environmental Review process unworkable. The bill died on the Assembly floor during the final hours of the session.

Also failing this year were numerous bills that sought to lower the two-thirds vote requirement for local bonds and taxes. None of those bills passed either house.

• AB 51 (Simitian). Requires general plans to identify land use categories that provide for child care facilities. Passed.

• AB 94 (Chu). Permits cities and counties to increase their existing extraordinary property tax rates to pay for pension programs approved by voters before Proposition 13 was passed in 1978 (see CP&DR Legal Digest, September 2003). Passed.

• AB 170 (Reyes). Requires cities and counties within the eight-county San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District to amend their general plans with goals, policies objectives and implementation measures intended to improve air quality. Passed and signed by governor.

• AB 332 (Mullin). Requires cities and counties to notify airport land use commissions and Caltrans before overriding airport land use compatibility plans. Passed and signed by governor.

• AB 406 (Jackson). Prohibits lead agencies from allowing developers to hire their own CEQA consultants to prepare environmental documents. Two-year bill.

• AB 487 (Frommer). Requires rental car companies to charge a 2.29% fee to fund state highway projects near airports. Passed.

• AB 514 (Kehoe). Requires installation of water meters by 2013 in urban areas supplied by the Central Valley Project, notably the cities of Fresno, Roseville and Folsom. Passed.

• AB 531 (Kehoe). $10 billion bond for infill infrastructure and to replace aging infrastructure. Two-year bill.

• AB 518 (Salinas). Requires local agency formation commissions to consider how proposed boundary changes affect regional housing needs. Passed and signed by governor.

• AB 520 (Salinas). Allows the Santa Cruz Local Agency Formation Commission to approve phased annexations implementing Watsonville’s voter-approved growth management plan (see CP&DR Local Watch, February 2003). Passed and signed by governor.

• AB 944 (Steinberg). Permits property and business improvement districts to issue assessment bonds and levy assessments against business owners. Passed

• AB 1158 (Lowenthal). Overhauls the housing element process to give councils of government more authority in determining and distributing needs. Two-year bill.

• AB 1160 (Steinberg). Prohibits local governments from imposing “unreasonable” development standards on second units. Two-year bill.

• AB 1221 (Steinberg). Swaps half of a city’s or county’s sales tax revenue with property tax revenue. Two-year bill.

• AB 1228 (Dutton). Codifies Federal Communications Commission regulations by requiring that zoning ordinances allow amateur radio antennas. Passed and signed by governor.

• AB 1244 (Chu). Allows schools to apply for modernization funds every 25 years, lifting a one-time-only limitation. Passed.

• AB 1347 (Maze). Requires local governments to account for fees received through development agreements the same way local governments account for other development impact fees. Passed and signed by governor.

• AB 1410 (Wolk). Places transit-oriented development on the list of uses that receive preferential treatment when public agencies sell surplus land. Passed.

• AB 1426 (Steinberg). Sets a 10% affordable housing production standard for the Sacramento region. Two-year bill.

• AB 1492 (Laird). Creates a new procedure for terminating Williamson Act farmland preservation contracts if there is a contract breach in the future, and doubles penalties for breaches. Passed.

• AB 1631 (Salinas). Drops the requirement that a school go to a multi-track schedule if it is converted from a single-story structure to a multi-story building. Passed.

• AB 1748. Requires public disclosure of appraisals, purchase contracts and environmental studies when the state purchases land for parks and wildlife refuges. Passed but vetoed by governor.

• SB 18 (Burton). Requires an expanded Native American Heritage Committee to review developments within five miles of “traditional tribal cultural sites.” Failed by three votes on the Assembly floor.

• SB 86 (Machado). Establishes the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy to protect farmland and open space. Two-year bill.

• SB 109 (Torlakson). Alters the attorney general’s oversight of redevelopment agencies’ annual audits, in part by giving the attorney general more time to sue local agencies for major violations. Passed and signed by governor.

• SB 114 (Torlakson). Prohibits all subsidies of retail stores of at least 75,000 square feet and vehicle dealerships and relocating within the same market. Passed.

• SB 178 (Cedillo). Amends the Costa-Hawkins rent control law to permit local governments to impose restrictions on inclusionary housing units. Gutted at last minute.

• SB 321 (Torlakson). A $15 billion bond for transportation projects, affordable housing and the Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank. Two-year bill.

• SB 619 (Ducheny). Streamlines processing of affordable, multi-family housing projects of 100 units or less, in part by prohibiting cities and counties from requiring conditional use permits if the project is in a multi-family residential zone. Passed.

• SBs 700 to 709 (Florez). Ten-bill package concerning Central Valley air quality. Passed and signed by governor were SBs 700, 704, 705, 708 and 709, which, among other things, end agriculture’s exemption from air pollution regulations.

• SB 744 (Dunn). Creates a state board to hear appeals from housing developers and provides incentives for local governments to produce housing. Two-year bill.

• SB 745 (Ashburn). Makes permanent the Subdivision Map Act’s environmental subdivision provisions, which are intended to ease the purchase and dedication of land as mitigation for development. Passed and signed by governor.

• SB 806 (Sher). Renames the general plan’s circulation element the “transportation element.” Two-year bill.

• SB 810 (Burton). Gives regional water quality control boards authority over water quality protections in logging plans. Passed.

• SB 898 (Burton). Prohibits until 2015 the rezoning of certain agricultural lands for development purposes. Two-year bill.

• SB 1049 (Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee). A budget trailer bill that increases certain use fees and levies new fees, including a charge of $70 per parcel on 750,000 lots that receive fire protection from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. That fee drops to $35 beginning next year. Passed.

• ACA 7 (Dutra). Lowers the voter-approval threshold for a half-percent sales tax override for local transportation projects from two-thirds to 55%. Two-year bill.

• ACA 14 (Steinberg). Lowers the vote requirement from two-thirds to 55% on sales tax increases to fund affordable housing, infrastructure, parks and open space, and “neighborhood improvements.” Two-year bill.

• SCA 2 (Torlakson). Allows approval of a sales tax override for transportation or “smart growth” planning with a majority vote. Two-year bill.

• SCA 11 (Alarcon). Lowers the voter-approval threshold for local special taxes and bonds funding affordable housing, transportation, open space and infrastructure from two-thirds to 55%. Two-year bill.