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Legislative Update: Deadlines under COVID Pressures

Friday was the last day to amend bills in Sacramento. August 31 is the last day to reconcile bills in both houses. The legislative agenda has been pared to the bone, but pressure is high to get some kind of housing fixes passed. While the Judicial Council removed its moratorium on evictions during COVID, leaving it up to the legislature to fix, there is only one bill left that contains anything addressing evictions. The last-minute rush is not reassuring.

And housing isn't the only issue on the board; the legislature has also been considering - and rejecting, in some cases - bills dealing with other crucial issues.

Streetsblog California is tracking some of the bills. Below are some that are still alive - that is, they have passed the Appropriations Committees and are moving on to a floor vote - as well as some that have died. This list is far from comprehensive.

Housing, and Transportation
The only bill left standing after this week's Appropriations Committees that contains a semblance of eviction protections is A.B. 1436, the COVID Tenant and Homeowner Relief Act, which limits the ability of a landlord to kick a tenant out if they can't pay rent right now. It's been fought hard on both sides, with [racial justice] advocates calling for the legislature to protect tenants and recognize that "housing is an issue of racial justice" and landlords saying they would be forced to bear the burden of paying for layabout renters. The bill passed the Appropriations Committee, a major hurdle. It's still alive as of now.

Meanwhile Assemblymember Autumn Burke's "Right to Housing" bill, A.B. 2405, passed. This is a big deal, as it declares it a policy of the state "...that every individual has the right to safe, decent, and affordable housing." However, the bill was amended to removing language that required local governments to consider this policy when making decisions, which could become create problematic loophole.

Other housing bills that passed include a few that require housing to be approved by right: A.B 1851 would allow churches to build housing on their parking lots, and S.B. 1120 would allow accessory dwelling units to be built in single-family zones. A.B 725 encourages cities to zone for fourplexes by allowing them to use them towards their required Regional Housing Needs Assessment. S.B. 1138 would require cities to zone for and build homeless shelters, including in residential areas, if needed, by requiring them to update the housing elements of their general plan.

Two bills to simplify CEQA processes for transit and active transportation projects also got out of the committee. S.B. 757 would make certain transit projects easier. L.A. Metro sponsored this bill, which includes some of its "20x28" projects. It applies to "exclusive public mass transit guideway and related fixed facilities" that meet certain requirements and are approved by their lead agency before January 1, 2024.

Similarly, S.B. 288 extends a CEQA exemption for certain active transportation, transit, and charging and refueling infrastructure for ZEVs projects. They include wayfinding. It would sunset soon, though - in 2023. Apparently it was amended to eliminate the exemption for converting highway and HOV lanes to toll lanes, but that language has not yet shown up on the legislative info site.

Bills That Died
S.B. 1410 would have provided a different layer of protection for tenants, by requiring landlords to enter into an agreement for payment of back rent before they could commence eviction proceedings. It would also have offered landlords a tax credit of up to 80 percent for any delayed rent payments. It would have been a voluntary program, but was held in Appropriations.

A bill that would have given CEQA streamlining for developing more densely near transit, S.B. 902, died after a last-minute flurry of negotiations. Author Senator Scott Wiener tweeted out a clarification that "since there’s been some speculation: The California Building Trades did *not* kill this bill. We worked collaboratively with the Trades & reached an agreement on the bill yesterday." The Trades Council for its part confirmed that "we were up late working with @Scott_Wiener on this particular bill." But their agreement, in the end, wasn't enough.

A bill that would have allowed building dense-ish housing on parcels within commercial zones, with some restrictions - S.B. 1385 - did not make it out of the committee.

Also dead are bills that would have required a state plan to address and reduce homelessness (A.B. 3269), one that would have provided state funds for homeless shelters (A.B. 3300) and another that would have provided money for emergency economic recovery and development, climate change, and disaster response (A.B. 795).

Two other housing bills, S.B. 899 that would have allowed hospitals, colleges, and religious institutions to build housing on their property by right, and A.B. 3040 that would have encouraged duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes in single family zones, were also held back.

Other Issues

An important environmental justice bill that had strong support from a wide range of groups was killed earlier in the month. A.B. 345 failed to pass the Committee on Natural Resources. This bill called for the state to establish a minimum setback distance between oil wells and housing, schools, childcare facilities, playgrounds, residences, hospitals, and health clinics. Residents of Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Kern County are well versed with the health issues that arise from the presence of oil wells literally in their backyards, and have had little recourse for protecting themselves from the harm of living so close to working wells. As Steve Horn pointed out in The Real News, all of the legislators that voted against the bill have received large contributions from the oil industry and labor groups that opposed it.

One last, bike-related bill: A.B. 3153 would have provided incentives to build bike parking in new buildings, but it fell victim to the COVID emergency. According to CalBike:

The bill would not have made a huge impact on California’s housing stock, because it provided an optional incentive (instead of a mandate) and would only have impacted new housing in some counties. But where it applied, it would have overridden local zoning laws, making an incredibly bold statement on behalf of sustainable transportation. Housing builders could have used this law to build less car parking and more bike parking than local regulations require, and local officials could not have prevented it. It would have encouraged new local ordinances to reduce car parking requirements and increase bike parking requirements in the name of local control.

Meanwhile, most places in California still have minimum car parking requirements, which add to housing costs, encourage driving, and contribute to the lack of safety for people on foot and on bikes.

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