SB 330 (Skinner) Review

To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Without question, SB 330 (Skinner) not only continued recent legislative trends of reducing a city’s discretion addressing housing development applications (the bill is titled “Housing Crises Act of 2019”), it attempts to justify every change in law with 14 legislative findings in support of the reasons for the bill.

The bill, however, reforms local government control over development. These reforms, as you will find, could not have ever been approved by the Legislature in any previous year.

Here are the significant changes in law that will assist developers and real property owners to the detriment of most every California city and county:

  1. Restriction on building moratoria. Cities will not be able to impose a moratorium on development of land where housing is allowable except to protect against an imminent threat to the “health and safety of persons residing in, or within the immediate vicinity of, the area subject to the moratorium.” If any moratorium is proposed, it must be first submitted to the state Department of Housing & Community Development (HCD) for approval. The result of the change in state law is that this will substantially stiffen most moratoriums that are to prevent development that “may be in conflict with a contemplated general plan … that the legislative body is considering or studying or intends to study within a reasonable time.”
  2. Growth limits will be prohibited. A city or county will not be able to establish or implement any provision that limits the number of approvals or permits, puts a cap on the number of housing units that can be approved or constructed “whether annually or for some other time period.”

    This will affect most every city that likes to prevent growth or that likes to implement growth controls.

    The only exception is for voter-initiated growth control measures for pre-2005 enactments in a “predominately agricultural county.”

  3. Design review standards must be objective. Cities and counties may not impose or enforce design standards that are established on or after January 1, 2020, that are not objective. An objective design standard is defined to mean a standard “that involves no personal or subjective judgment by a public official and is uniformly verifiable…” Presumably, local governments can still apply pre-existing 2020 non-objective design standards. Should the pre-existing standards be changed, however, the new law may be enforceable against that city or county.
  4. Downzoning. No city or county may re-designate land where housing is an allowable use by changing or applying a general or specific plan or zoning criteria that would reduce the intensity of the land below that of which was allowable as of January 1, 2018. It is worth noting that a city or county could play the game by reducing zoning in one area to upzone in another area. We are not sure how much this will truly accomplish.
  5. Limit on the number of public hearings. The law imposes a limit on the number of hearings that can be conducted on a housing development proposal.
  6. No more than five hearings for a project that complies with the objective general plan and zoning standards in effect at the time the application for development is deemed complete.

As a general rule, the new law should cut down on the endless number of public hearings. Further, the law is amended to revise the time approval limits and focus on housing projects. The housing development proposal must be approved or disapproved within 90 days of certification of an EIR (current law is 120 days). And for affordable housing projects, the maximum time is 60 days down from a 90-day review period. This is part of the Permit Streamlining Act. Note that one extension of up to 90 days by mutual agreement is still permissible.

We hope the law will be used to expedite housing development approvals. Time will tell, however.

Good luck California!


Ron Kingston is President of California Strategic Advisors. Jack Schwartz is an attorney based in San Francisco.