State Senate Sends Senator Roth’s Measure to Address California’s Housing Crisis to Governor

September 15, 2017

Senator Richard D. Roth’s (D-Riverside) measure to address the State’s housing crisis has been approved by the California State Senate and sent to Governor Jerry Brown. Senate Bill 540, which is part of a bipartisan package of bills aimed at lowering housing costs and spurring housing construction, was approved on a bipartisan vote of 29-7.

Senator Roth said: “Access to housing is a basic human need, and ensuring Californians have access to an affordable place to live is critical to every Californian’s quality of life. That’s why I am proud to have authored SB 540, which will incentivize and streamline housing construction to meet our state’s dire housing shortage. I thank my colleagues for recognizing the critical need for this measure, and am confident the Governor will sign this important measure.”

Currently, housing construction projects are subject to individual environmental reviews even if they would be undertaken in the same underlying zone. This can result in costly project delays and serve as a disincentive to housing construction. SB 540 allows for a single environmental review to be completed for all projects within specific areas identified by cities and counties as Workforce Housing Zones, streamlining the environmental review process and incentivizing housing construction in these zones. Extensive environmental reviews for these zones would be conducted at the front-end, providing developers with a clear picture of the conditions for development (including traffic mitigation measures, parking requirements, design review standards and environmental mitigation).

Under SB 540, less affluent communities can apply for a grant from the state, which will not need to be repaid, in order to advance the specific plan and conduct up-front environmental reviews. Communities that do not qualify for a grant will still be able to apply for a zero interest loan to be repaid by cities and counties. 

By some estimates, SB 540 would shave off one to two years off the development timeline, and would do so without compromising public health, local control or the rights of citizens to participate in local land use decisions. SB 540 strikes an important balance to preserve the protections afforded under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) while streamlining processes that currently stagnate housing construction. SB 540 is sponsored by the League of California Cities.

Senator Roth continued: “California is home to one of the most expensive housing markets in the nation, with many Californians unable to afford to rent or own a home. SB 540 is a commonsense measure that will remove the barriers to housing construction in the areas most in need, helping ensure this crisis does not continue to grow and families do not continue to struggle.”

SB 540 now goes to Governor Jerry Brown for his consideration.