Senate advances Atkins bill to add housing by extending successful CEQA streamlining

Jesus Figueroa

The Senate Environmental Quality Committee approved SB 995 by Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego) on May 29, legislation that will help ease California’s affordable housing crisis by extending California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) streamlining for large-scale projects and expanding the streamlining process to make more small projects eligible.
“Legislation that allowed large projects to use streamlined paperwork and expedited legal challenges under CEQA—a process that has already generated $2 billion in investment and thousands of new housing units and good-paying jobs—is set to expire this year,” Atkins said. “SB 995 not only extends the life of that law, SB 995 also gives new life to smaller projects by making them eligible for the streamlined CEQA process as well.” 
SB 995 provides CEQA relief by expanding the existing AB 900 process for Environmental Leadership Development Projects for housing projects, particularly affordable housing.

This creates a new tool for housing developers who may have been interested in using the AB 900 process, but did not meet the existing dollar threshold.

In addition to creating housing units, it also could carry the benefit of creating numerous highly skilled and high wage construction jobs.

According to figures compiled by the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research and Senate Office of Research, since 2011, 10,573 housing units have been constructed or proposed under projects certified under AB 900, and the law helped create 46,949 high-wage, permanent construction jobs. 
To be eligible under SB 995, projects must:
  • Provide a minimum investment of $15 million dollars (as opposed to the current $100 million threshold).
  • Be located on an infill site and consistent with the region’s sustainable communities strategy.
  • Dedicate at least two-thirds of the project for residential use.
  • Dedicate a minimum of 15 percent of residential units as affordable housing (in keeping with other state incentive programs).
SB 995 would also broaden application and use of the Master Environmental Impact Report (MEIR) Focused Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) process.

That process allows cities to do upfront planning that streamlines housing approvals on an individual project level, pursue additional opportunities to revise local community plans and policies to support more housing, reform funding and administrative processes at state housing entities, and protect and sustain equity in existing neighborhoods. 
“By encouraging the use of MEIR/FEIR streamlining for housing, with the state providing funding for the cost of the analyses, SB 995 opens up a tool for local communities that they want to use, at a small investment for the state, that will pay immense dividends,” Atkins said.
SB 995 is part of the Senate package of housing bills to spur affordable housing production and aid California’s economic recovery due to the COVID-19 crisis.

The package is the product of four months of work by a group of lead Democratic Senators designated by Atkins including Senators Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg), Anna M. Caballero (D-Salinas), María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles), Lena A. Gonzalez (D-Long Beach), Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), Richard D. Roth (D-Riverside), and Susan Rubio (D-Baldwin Park). The package also builds on a foundation of work by Senate Housing Committee Chair, Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco).
SB 995 now goes to Senate Appropriations Committee.


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