State lawmakers wrapped up the first year of their two-year session without taking action on numerous bills regarding land use planning, development and natural resources. But some of the legislation could receive consideration before the end of the month because lawmakers are likely to return for special sessions called by Gov. Schwarzenegger.
The Legislature passed bills that would require fire safety to be a larger factor in land use planning, allow farmworker housing to be built on agricultural land and give local government the authority to limit the conversion of mobile home parks to resident-owned condominiums. Schwarzenegger has until October 11 to sign or veto the bills.
Two bills that would require greater consideration of fire safety in land use planning appear likely to reach the governor's desk before the Legislature recesses its regular session on September 11. Moreover, a late move to link the fire planning bills to disaster relief legislation could increase the chances that Gov. Schwarzenegger will actually sign the bills.
State lawmakers have introduced an extraordinarily diverse collection of bills regarding land use planning, natural resources and infrastructure this year. While lawmakers' interest in affordable housing and redevelopment reform appears to have waned, the number of bills related to climate change or renewable energy has increased dramatically in 2009.
Legislators have proposed at least five measures that would place water bonds before voters. Other measures are aimed at enhancing the health and changing the governance of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Bills concerned with development in fire-prone areas have returned after failing last year, as has a measure to ease use of tax increment financing for infrastructure around transit stations. There is also a bill that would raise vehicle license fees to fund at least some of the regional planning required by last year's SB 375.
Supporters and opponents alike are touting SB 375 as the most significant land use reform bill in recent California history. When he signed it in September, Gov. Schwarzenegger called it the biggest bill since the California Environmental Quality Act 38 as approved years ago. Meanwhile, the hilariously over-the-top Orange County Register has called the bill "one of the most authoritarian, far-reaching and elitist bills that has ever made it to the governor's desk." In fact, it is neither.
Construction activity may have declined dramatically, but the number of ballot measures seeking to slow or guide growth remains high. Voters across California will face close to 50 growth-related local ballot measures in November.
It's not unusual for the number of slow-growth measures to increase at the end of a real estate boom. Construction often continues and the real estate market dies, and slow-growth measures are often a reaction to construction rather than the market. In other words, slow-growth ballot measures are a lagging economic indicator of the real estate market. This November's total is down from the 78 measures on the November 2006 ballot, partly because California had two primaries this year.
The state budget signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger in late September shifts $350 million from redevelopment agencies to schools, and it provides no funding at all for transit projects contained in the State Transportation Improvement Program. Still, the sentiment among many local government officials was that the budget could have been far worse.
Senate Bill 375 is alternately being described as the most important land use legislation since the California Coastal Act of 1976, and a step in the right direction. Only time will tell whether the bill is a landmark or an incremental step, but there is no denying that SB 375 author Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) aimed high. "At the heart of this effort," Steinberg said, "is the need to integrate our housing and transportation plans to create sustainable communities."
Steinberg's bill was by far the most significant land use legislation approved during the two-year legislative session that concluded on August 31.
Urgency legislation extending the life of all subdivision maps by one year has been signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger. The California Building Industry Association (CBIA) praised the governor for signing SB 1185 (Lowenthal). The real estate slowdown has prevented developers from following through with approved projects, and the legislation ensures developers and landowners do not have to go through the entitlement process a second time.
Redevelopment agencies may soon have authority to assist homeowners with subprime loans who are facing foreclosure, and to acquire foreclosed housing.
Under a measure likely to pass the Legislature, redevelopment agencies could aid homeowners, lenders and developers whether or not the subject property is within a redevelopment project area. However, a late amendment to the bill would prevent agencies from using their 20% housing set-aside fund for the activities.
Although the state's mounting budget deficit is expected to predominate in Sacramento for many months, 2008 could be a blockbuster year for land use legislation. Scores of bills related to planning, the California Environmental Quality Act, redevelopment, housing, the Subdivision Map Act, and other land use matters have been introduced during the first two months of the year or remain leftover from 2007.