Another Bay Area legislator is taking aim at local zoning rules that are often blamed for restricting housing production in California.

Yesterday, Oakland Senator Nancy Skinner of Oakland introduced SB 330, a bill which would amongst other things, curtail the ability of cities and counties to rezone properties to decrease their developable potential.  Specifically, SB 330 would prohibit local governments from: 

  • rezoning properties for less intensive uses than what was allowed as of January 1, 2018;
  • imposing moratoriums on housing development;
  • increasing parking requirements in new housing developments;
  • charging fees for the approval of housing developments beyond those which are already specified, or charging any fee in connection to a project that meets specified affordability criteria; and
  • using a maximum number of discretionary use or conditional use permits to enforce a cap on housing development projects or total housing units in a jurisdiction.

The bill, if adopted, would be in effect until January 1, 2030.  During that time, cities and counties would have up to 12 months to either approve or disapprove of any proposed housing development seeking a zone variance, conditional use permit, or other discretionary entitlement.  The city or county would be limited to three hearings to reach a decision.

This tenet of SB 330 comes as new research out of the UC Berkeley School of Law shows that two Los Angeles County cities - Pasadena and Santa Monica specifically - take significantly longer than 12 months to approve new housing developments.

Average approval times for new developments in Pasadena range from as low as 13 months for projects between 26 and 100 units, to upwards of 28 months for those containing 100 residential units or more. 

In Santa Monica, approval times are even slower.  Smaller multifamily projects - with 25 residential units or less - take nearly 56 months on average to receive approval.  Projects with 151 units or more are on average approved within 101 months - a figure that translates to a more than eight-year timeline.

Los Angeles and Long Beach, the County's two largest cities, are speedy in comparison, with an average approval time of 13.1 months and 10.5 months respectively.


SB 330 can be seen as something of a companion to SB 50, legislation introduced in December 2018 by San Francisco Senator Scott Wiener.  Wiener's bill would allow for the construction of apartment buildings up to five stories within walking distance of major transit stops and employment hubs across the state.

While SB 50 focuses on creating new capacity for housing in current single-family zones transit lines and job centers, Skinner's legislation aims to prevent cities and counties from eliminating what development potential already exists - a practice known as downzoning.

Downzoning has a long history in Los Angeles.  In his 2013 Ph.D. dissertation "The Homeowner Revolution," Greg Morrow found that the zoning of Los Angeles in 1960 could have accommodated up to 10 million residents at a time when the city's population was approximately 2.5 million.  Yet by 2010, decades of homeowner rebellion against development - acquiesced by elected officials - resulted in a city zoned to accommodate just 4.3 million residents at a time when its population was already nearing that figure.

Skinner's legislation is more proof that housing is 2019's issue du jour in Sacramento, with freshly-inaugurated Governor Gavin Newsom using the bully pulpit - and the threat of legal action - to force cities to increase homebuilding.  Newsom notably proposed building 3.5 million homes across the state by the year 2025 as a campaign pledge.