2012 Legislative Year in Review

2012 Legislative Year in Review for Land Use Planners

By Alexandra Barnhill, Legislative Director, APA California–Northern

September 30th marked the end of another busy California legislative session. While it is not possible to summarize all the actions taken on bills that are relevant to land use planners, some of the most significant developments are described below.

Redevelopment-related bills vetoed as “premature.” The loss of redevelopment as a tool for economic development has deeply impacted local governments. Numerous bills were drafted this session to create a replacement tool for redevelopment; however, none of them secured the Governor’s approval.

  • SB 214 (Wolk), AB 2144 (Perez), and AB 2551 (Hueso) would have modified the cumbersome rules for the establishment of Infrastructure Financing Districts (IFDs) by local governments.
  • AB 345 (Torres) would have made changes to the Community Redevelopment Law regarding redevelopment agencies’ use of the Low and Moderate Income Housing Fund.
  • SB 1156 (Steinberg) would have allowed local governments to establish a Sustainable Communities Investment Authority to finance activities within a specified area.

Though these bills were not signed into law, the Governor indicated via his veto messages that he is committed to working on revitalization efforts in upcoming sessions. For now, Brown wants local agencies to focus their efforts on the winding down of redevelopment.

Although the Governor does not yet broadly support the use of IFDs for redevelopment, one exception was made. Brown signed AB 2259 (Ammiano), which creates an IFD for San Francisco’s upcoming America’s Cup yacht race. This, along with the veto messages, signals that IFDs or other redevelopment replacement tools may be approved in the future.

Parking Reform measure fails. AB 904 (Skinner) would have imposed a single statewide parking standard for both nonresidential and residential infill and close-to-transit projects across California. Facing strong opposition, the author dropped the bill. Similar proposals also failed to gain support in prior sessions. APA California conceptually supports reduced or “smart” parking requirements near transit-rich areas and has agreed to work with the bill’s sponsors to develop a new parking proposal for 2013. Northern California APA will be hosting a forum representing all stakeholders’ views on this topic on November 9, 2012. More information on the workshop is available at https://norcalapa.org.

Wildfire Prevention Planning bill approved. After many unsuccessful attempts, Senator Kehoe finally secured adoption of a bill that requires local governments to plan for wildfire hazards. Senate Bill 1241 amends the Planning and Zoning Law, requiring cities and counties to review and update their safety element. The Office of Planning and Research will draft guidelines for how plans should identify and address fire danger. Then, local agencies must amend their safety element by 2014 to include detailed surveys and maps identifying areas of high fire severity zones and addressing the risk of fire in State Responsibility areas.

Housing Element Law clarified. Last year, SB 244 (Wolk) amended the Planning and Zoning law to require cities to update their land use element to plan for disadvantaged unincorporated communities within the city’s sphere of influence. It was unclear under the law whether local governments were required to undertake new studies or analysis to satisfy this obligation. SB 1090 (Committee on Governance and Finance), the Local Government Omnibus bill, contains a provision that clarifies that the responsibilities of each city to update their General Plan is based upon available information, such as the data and analysis provided by a LAFCo.

Solar Energy Permit bills signed. Under current law, local agencies must administratively approve applications to install solar energy systems and only charge a building permit fee that reflects the estimated reasonable cost of providing the service. The Governor signed into law two new bills relating to solar residential building permit fees:

  • AB 1801 (Campos) clarifies that a local agency’s solar residential building permit fees are an issue of statewide concern and must be based on the costs to issue the permit, not the value of the solar system or other factors.
  • SB 1222 (Leno) places a cap on building permit fees on what local agencies can charge applicants to install solar residential systems unless the agency can justify their “reasonable costs” with detailed findings. This bill was controversial because it may establish a precedence of legislation placing arbitrary caps on permit fees for specific types of projects.

Together with the Office of Planning and Research’s California Solar Permitting Guidebook and the County Planning Directors’ California Solar Planning Guide, these legislative developments provide a base of information for local agencies to appropriately permit residential solar systems.

Cottage Food Operations bill approved. Under the gut-and-amend bill AB 1616 (Gatto), cities and counties must permit cottage food operations in residential dwellings by right. Alternatively, the agency may grant such operations a non-discretionary or use permit, so long as the operation complies with certain limited restrictions such as concentration, parking, and noise. The bill also effectively shifts the enforcement obligation of cottage food operations from local heath departments to local planning departments. APA California has a number of concerns about the bill and is seeking clarification regarding this bill’s implications for local regulation of the point of sale of cottage food products, application of home occupation standards, and permit fees.

CEQA only modestly reformed. In late August, SB 317 (Rubio) was introduced as a gut-and-amend bill that would have made significant changes to the enforcement of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). While the bill was ultimately killed, this effort highlighted the deep divide between labor and other groups seeking CEQA reform and environmental groups who are opposed to the weakening of CEQA.

Several modest changes to CEQA were able to survive the legislative process. Most notably, a handful of new exemptions were approved, such as AB 1665 (Galgiani) for railroad crossings, AB 1486 (Lara) for roadway improvements, and AB 2245 (Smyth) for bicycle lanes.

Unless otherwise provided for in the law, the statutes enacted by this new legislation take effect January 1, 2013.

Alexandra M. Barnhill is a Partner in the Oakland office of Burke, Williams and Sorensen, LLP. You can reach her at abarnhill@bwslaw.com

Scroll to Top