With only about four weeks left in the legislative session and virtually no opportunity for meaningful stakeholder engagement, a reboot of a job killer proposal making extensive changes to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) has surfaced in the Assembly.
SB 55 (Jackson; D-Santa Barbara) adds substantial time and costs to the CEQA process and provides project opponents with new legal arguments to delay or block housing and other projects. The California Chamber of Commerce and a coalition of opponents point out that SB 55 is substantially similar to SB 950 (Jackson; D-Santa Barbara), a job killer bill that failed to pass the Senate Environmental Quality Committee earlier this year.
At a time when California is reeling from the public health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 global pandemic and struggling with an existing housing crisis, SB 55 attempts to jam through major changes to CEQA and the California Elections Code at the very end of an already-truncated legislative session.
Stunts Housing Construction
The substantial policy changes to CEQA contained in SB 950 and now SB 55 have been billed as a consensus product that brings the statute into the “21st century.” This “consensus,” however, disregards the views of stakeholders responsible for producing approximately 85% of the new homes sold annually throughout the state. The current version of this bill continues to push for major changes to CEQA and the Elections Code that were problematic under SB 950, such as expanding CEQA to include new resource areas and forcing local governments to bear additional election costs.
Housing construction has been devastated by COVID-19. A new economic report from the U.S. Commerce Department reveals that housing construction collapsed by 22.3% in March. The state Department of Finance recently forecasted that permits for new housing construction will drop by more than 21% this year. These grim figures represent the worst drop in housing construction activity since March 1984.
Similar to SB 950, SB 55 will harm California’s economic recovery, place substantial cost pressures on local governments, substantially degrade the state’s ability to build more housing and negatively impact jobs in or related to the construction industry.
As pointed out in testimony on its predecessor, legislation of the magnitude of SB 55 with its significant impacts on land use and housing in California should be developed through a robust stakeholder process, in a full legislative session, and with multiple committee hearings.
Attempting to advance major CEQA changes already tried and failed in the Senate is inappropriate when only a few weeks remain in the legislative session.
Staff Contact: Adam Regele