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Governor’s Proposal Seeks to Limit Public Engagement, Design and Environmental Review over Affordable Housing Projects

League’s Initial Analysis Now Available

May 25, 2016
As a component of his recently released budget May Revise, Gov. Jerry Brown proposed to reduce perceived additional costs and delays associated with the approval of housing developments containing specified percentages of affordable housing by eliminating public input and project level environmental analysis, restricting design review, and making approvals non-discretionary or “ministerial.”
In brief, the proposal allows developers to get their projects approved by city staff in an expedited timeframe based on whatever general plan and “objective” zoning criteria are in effect, and even authorizes staff to approve zoning changes, zoning variances and conditional use permits without public review.
The League voiced significant concerns over these proposals at separate hearings held last Wednesday by both the Assembly and Senate Budget Subcommittees #4, and conveyed that removing opportunities for public input undermined transparency and public trust in the actions of local government, and could inspire residents to pursue local ballot measures in response. Labor and environmental groups testified in opposition to the removal of environmental review, and housing advocates questioned the minimal levels of affordability proposed for these developments.
Purported Savings May Be Pennywise
According to the Administration’s information, the potential savings for shutting out public review appears minimal. Despite a lengthy description of the alleged problems created by community input, the May Revise (page 49) calculates a savings of only 5 percent in project costs. Such a low number actually supports a counter argument that the concern may be overblown.
Moreover, excluding the public from decisions that affect them undermines the principles of the Brown Act, which states in its preamble: “The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created. (Sec. 54950 Gov. Code)
Changes caused by design review were assigned 7 percent of project costs, yet having good design (as opposed to taking short cuts on quality) has long been maintained by affordable housing developers as the key to community acceptance of higher density and affordable housing projects. Myths and Facts About Affordable & High Density Housing, co-authored by the state Department of Housing and Community Development states: “Architectural standards and adequate maintenance also strongly influence property values, particularly as they apply to affordable rental properties. Properly maintained affordable housing developments, designed and built with sensitivity to the architectural and aesthetic standards desired by the community, may even increase property values.”   
League’s Preliminary Analysis Available
On Friday afternoon, the League sent city officials an analysis of the proposals on Friday, May 20.
Next Steps
Several legislators raised concerns about the policy implications of this proposal while it was being reviewed in the Budget subcommittees last week. While it was unveiled as part of the budget, it has major policy implications deserving of careful Legislative consideration. City officials should contact their legislators and urge that this proposal not be fast-tracked with the budget, but given the careful analysis and consideration it deserves.

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