Governor Signs Senator Roth’s Measure to Address California’s Housing Crisis

September 29, 2017

Gov. Jerry Brown today in San Francisco signed Senator Richard Roth’s Senate Bill 540, one of the measures in a package of legislation to address the state’s housing crisis by lowering housing costs and spurring construction. SB 540 received bipartisan support from the Legislature.

Senator Roth: “Access to housing is a basic human need and ensuring access to an affordable place to live is critical to every Californian’s quality of life. This is why I am proud to have authored SB 540, which will incentivize and streamline housing construction to meet our state’s mounting housing shortage.”

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 one 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. By conducting the single extensive environmental review on the front-end, developers will have a clearer scope of development conditions (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 they will not have to repay, 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 fund these costs. 

By some estimates, SB 540 can shave one to two years off the development timeline 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.

The League of California Cities sponsored SB 540.

"The housing affordability crisis is one of the greatest challenges facing working families and communities throughout the state," said Carolyn Coleman, executive director of the League of California Cities. "Local governments recognize the important role they play in planning for and supporting more housing production and are grateful to Senator Roth for championing SB 540.  Throughout the session, he provided crucial leadership on this legislation that will streamline the housing approval process and provide cities with a powerful tool to help spur more affordable housing development in their communities."

Senator Roth continued: “California is one of the most expensive places to live in the nation with many Californians unable to afford to rent or own a home. SB 540 is a commonsense measure that removes 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.”