Senate Bill 330, known as the Housing Crisis Act of 2019 and authored by State Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), passed the California legislature on Friday, September 6, 2019, with strong support from numerous organizations supportive of the production of new housing. For a five-year period ending January 1, 2025, SB 330 would require local governments to process housing permits faster, prevent local governments from “changing the rules in the middle of the game,” and suspend certain housing limits. Although various local agencies and groups that favor strong local land use control opposed SB 330, Governor Gavin Newsom has publicly championed substantial housing production goals and is certain to sign the bill.

The bill declares a housing crisis based on a variety of widely-cited facts, including that California ranks 49th out of the 50 states in housing units per capita. As a result, existing housing in this state, especially in the largest cities, has become incredibly expensive. Seven of the 10 most expensive real estate markets in the United States are in California and the state needs an estimated 180,000 additional homes annually to keep up with population growth.

Many of SB 330’s provisions would apply to all cities and counties, including charter cities. These “good government” procedural provisions generally focus on the local land use process, which many communities use to placate local NIMBY’s by unduly delaying or avoiding action on disfavored housing applications.

In addition, several of SB 330’s provisions would apply only to an “affected” city or county that the California Department of Housing and Community Development determines is an “urbanized area” or “urban cluster” as designated by the U.S. Census Bureau. These substantive provisions generally limit the regulatory tools some communities use to constrain the approval of new housing development.

Provisions Applying to All Cities and Counties

SB 330 would establish uniform statewide standards for what a community can require in a “preliminary application” and require all communities to use a standard application form developed by HCD. With certain defined exceptions, SB 330 would prohibit communities from requiring a housing development project to comply with an ordinance, policy, or standard that not adopted and in effect when a preliminary application was submitted.

SB 330 would also require cities and counties would have to reduce the time it takes to process housing applications to no more than 90 days for most market-rate housing developments and 60 days for affordable developments, after a project application is deemed complete, and would prohibit communities from conducting more than five public hearings. In addition, SB 330 would require communities to either approve or disapprove the application at any of the five allowed hearings.

Provisions Applying Only to “Affected” Cities and Counties

SB 330 would prohibit an affected city or county from changing the general plan or specific land use designation or zoning to a less intensive use (such as reductions to height, density, or floor area ratio, new or increased open space or lot size requirements, or new or increased setback requirements, minimum frontage requirements, or maximum lot coverage limitations, or anything that would lessen the intensity of housing) or reducing the intensity of land use within an existing general plan land use designation, specific plan land use designation, or zoning district below what was allowed under the land use designation and zoning ordinances of the affected city or county. Moreover, any such amendment that took effect after January 1, 2018 would be null and void as a matter of law.

SB 330 is the most important housing bill to make it through the legislature this year and it is now on its way to Governor Newsom for his signature. The bill will take effect on January 1, 2020. According to Senator Skinner, “My bill, SB 330, gives a greenlight to housing that already meets existing zoning and local rules and prevents new rules that might limit housing we so desperately need.”