Declaring there to be a statewide housing emergency, California state Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) introduced Senate Bill 330, on February 19, 2019, to suspend certain regulatory restrictions on the development of new housing and to expedite the permitting of housing in certain high-cost regions for a 10-year period.

Among other things, the bill would prohibit cities and counties (including the electorate through the initiative or referendum process) from amending a general plan or adopting or amending any zoning ordinance that would reduce the land use intensity or change the zoning of property to a less intensive use than was allowed under the relevant general plan land use designation and zoning classification in effect on January 1, 2018. The bill would also:

  1. prohibit cities and counties from adopting a moratorium on housing development, except under certain narrow circumstances;
  2. imposing design standards that are more costly than those in effect on January 1, 2019;
  3. establishing a maximum number of conditional use or other discretionary permits the city or county will issue for the development of housing or otherwise imposing a cap on the number of housing units within the city or county; and
  4. imposing new or increasing or enforcing parking requirements on housing development projects.

To streamline the permitting process, the bill would prohibit cities and counties from conducting more than 3 de novo hearings on an application for a variance or a conditional use permit or equivalent development permit for a housing development project. The bill would require the city or county to consider and either approve or disapprove the housing development project at any of the 3 hearings and ultimately require the city or county to either approve or disapprove the permit within 12 months from when the date on which the application is deemed complete.

“California’s housing crisis demands bold action,” Skinner said. “We can’t afford to wait.”

SB 330 comes in response to Governor Gavin Newsom’s call for the state to build 3.5 million homes over the next 7 years. The bill would produce substantial changes in local land use and zoning regulations in the communities where it would apply and is highly likely to face fierce resistance from such communities and their interest group representatives. If adopted, the bill would be in effect until January 1, 2030.