New California Laws Address Housing Shortages, Ensure Safety and Prohibit Discrimination are Now Effective

By Best Best & Krieger LLP

As we explored in Part I of this three-part series, California lawmakers passed a wave of new laws in 2018 that will significantly impact how public agencies do business.

In Part II, we take a look at the numerous new laws that local leaders should be aware of that deal with affordable housing and housing discrimination, building inspections and safety violations, and disability access requirements.

Here is a look at these laws, most of which went into effect Jan. 1. Check back Thursday for Part III on new water and environmental laws impacting public agencies.

Affordable Housing, Density Bonuses Among Housing and Land Use Updates

  • Assembly Bill 829 supports the construction of affordable housing by denying state funding, tax credits and state-administered federal tax credits to any city that requires a local official to sign a “letter of acknowledgement” or similar document before applying for state assistance.
  • Assembly Bill 1771 and Senate Bill 828 impose new regulations regarding the preparation of regional housing need allocation plans. These bills require an RHNA to include an objective to increase access to areas of high opportunity for lower-income residents, and also cover several other new regulations.
  • Assembly Bill 2238 ensures cities that experience a devastating loss of housing stock due to a fire or another declared emergency are not unfairly penalized for failing to meet regional housing needs. Local governments will now include lost units in housing need computations.
  • Assembly Bill 2372 authorizes a city or county to develop a procedure (by ordinance) to grant a developer, upon request, a floor area ratio bonus in lieu of a density bonus, and prohibits an entity from imposing parking requirements on eligible housing developments in excess of stated ratios.
  • Assembly Bill 2797 requires density bonuses and other incentives, to which an applicant is entitled under the Density Bonus Law, be permitted in a manner that is consistent with that law and the California Coastal Act.
  • Senate Bill 1227 requires local governments to grant density bonuses to developers building housing where all units will be used by full-time college students. Developers must enter into an agreement with a higher learning institution, ensuring that at least 20 percent of the total units are for lower-income students and priority is given to students experiencing homelessness.

Identifying Hazards, Addressing the Housing Shortage

Through the following measures, state lawmakers moved to further streamline the approval process for multifamily housing developments and identify the natural hazards communities face. They also provided new requirements for charter cities regarding planning and zoning.

  • Senate Bill 46 enhances the safety and well-being of mobile home park residents by extending the Mobilehome Park Maintenance inspection program — requiring the Department of Housing and Community Development or a local enforcement agency to proactively inspect parks with complaints of health and safety violations — from Jan. 1, 2019 to Jan. 1, 2024.
  • Senate Bill 765 makes several technical changes to a 2017 law that implemented a streamlined ministerial approval process for multi-family housing developers in communities that identified a housing shortage. The law addresses requirements for: (1) When a qualifying development is subject to a minimum percentage of below-market rate housing, (2) The timing of the recording of affordability covenants, (3) The applicability of objective subdivision standards in the local subdivision ordinance, (4) CEQA streamlining, and (5) parking standards. The law also makes actions taken by the local government to lease, convey or encumber land owned by the locality for a shelter, during a declared shelter crisis, exempt under CEQA.
  • Senate Bill 1035, under the Planning and Zoning Law, requires each city and county to identify new information on fire and flood hazards, as well as climate adaptation along with applicable resiliency strategies in its safety element. These must be reviewed and revised every three years.
  • Senate Bill 1333 applies various provisions of the Planning and Zoning Law to charter cities. This includes: General plans, specific plans and the adoption and review of housing elements. Provisions of the law regarding ordinances, regional housing needs, mobile home parks and certain development agreements now also apply to charter cities.

Added Protections Against Housing Discrimination

Since its adoption during the civil rights movement, the federal Fair Housing Act has required the Department of Housing and Urban Development to affirmatively further its goal of prohibiting housing discrimination based on race, religion, sex, familial status and disability.

To define what it means to “affirmatively further fair housing,” the Obama administration adopted a regulation requiring local governments receiving HUD funds to assess the fair housing in their jurisdictions. This requirement was suspended by the current administration, pending potential changes and public comments.

California lawmakers adopted Assembly Bill 686 to replicate the now-suspended federal rule.

AB 686 requires public agencies to administer housing and community development programs and activities in a manner that “affirmatively” furthers fair housing and prohibits agencies from taking action that is materially inconsistent with this intent.

“Affirmatively furthering fair housing” is defined as: Taking meaningful actions that — in addition to combating discrimination — overcome patterns of segregation and foster inclusive communities free from barriers that restrict access to opportunity based on protected characteristics.

As with other recent housing-related laws, AB 686 uses local housing elements to implement its policy goals. Housing elements updated after Jan. 1, 2021 will have to incorporate an assessment of fair housing or an analysis of impediments to fair housing.

Lawmakers Implement Building Code and Permit Changes

From requiring increased inspections to raising fines for building and safety code violations, state lawmakers passed laws aimed to address safety issues and building permit discrepancies.

  • Building and Safety Code Violations: Assembly Bill 2598 provides cities and counties with more teeth to enforce local building and safety codes. The fines local governments can assess to violators increases to $130 for a first violation, $700 for a second violation of the same ordinance and $1,300 for each additional violation within a year of the first. The law does have a hardship waiver under which fines can be reduced if payment in full imposes an undue financial burden.
  • Building Permit Expiration: The validity of a building permit is extended under Assembly Bill 2913 from six months after its issuance to a year, so long as the work was not abandoned. It also allows for extensions of 180 days to be granted for a justifiable cause.
  • Deck and Balcony Inspections: In response to the Berkeley balcony collapse in 2015 that caused the death of several students, Senate Bill 721 provides inspection requirements for decks and balconies for three or more multi-family units and establishes reporting and repair requirements. An initial inspection must be completed by Jan.1, 2025 and repeated every six years.
  • Live/Work Units: What began as an effort to develop live/work units that artists could use as a workshop and residence, Assembly Bill 565 became a simple directive for HCD to develop building standards that clarify the requirements for constructing live/work units by the next triennial edition of the California Building Standards Code.
  • Retroactive Building Permits: Senate Bill 1226 requires HCD to propose the adoption of a building standard authorizing a local enforcement official to determine the date of construction of a residential unit, apply the appropriate building standard in effect on the date of construction, and issue a retroactive building permit for that unit, where a record does not exist.

Educating Businesses on Disability Access Requirements

To educate and encourage businesses to proactively comply with construction-related accessibility requirements before undertaking property improvements, California cities and counties must provide informational notices regarding disability access requirements to anyone applying for a business license.

Assembly Bill 3002 also requires that these notices be given to individuals applying for building permits for commercial properties or a “place of public accommodation” that the general public may use.

Changes Made to Public Contracts, Maps & Development Fees

Here are a few additional laws that will impact how public agencies handle development projects:

  • Disabled Veteran Businesses: The Public Contract Code authorizes local agencies to grant a 5 percent preference to small businesses in the award of construction, goods and services contracts. Under Assembly Bill 2762, this preference is extended to 7 percent, with a cap of $150,000. For local agencies within Los Angeles County and certain Bay Area counties, an additional 7 percent preference for disabled veteran businesses or social enterprises is permitted.
  • Mitigation Fee Act: If an agency requires a fee payment pursuant to the Mitigation Fee Act for development project approvals, under Senate Bill 1202, it must deposit the fee in a separate capital facilities account/fund and must expend the fees only for the purpose they were collected.
  • Subdivision Map Expiration: Assembly Bill 2973 authorizes a legislative body to extend a tentative map, vesting tentative map or parcel map by 24 months, if it was approved between Jan. 1, 2006 and July 11, 2013, is within a county that meets certain criteria and whose expiration date was previously extended and has not expired by the effective date of this measure.

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