Everything we do at the Housing Action Coalition is a team effort and we enormously appreciate our longtime friends and partners at Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP for teaming up with us once again as Presenting Sponsor of our 2021 Housing Heroes awards program.
With a wide range of pro-housing wins to celebrate this year, we invited RJR Partner Mark Loper to talk with us about some of the most significant victories as well as what our 2021 Housing Heroes mean to him.
When you look at the landscape of new housing laws recently passed by the California legislature and signed by Governor Newsom, which ones in particular do you think will make the biggest difference in alleviating our state’s housing shortage, displacement, and affordability crisis?
We’ve made some great strides this year and obviously the trio of SB 8, SB 9, and SB 10 each have the potential to make a significant impact on housing across California. SB 9 has probably received the most media coverage and rightly so, as it effectively ends single-family zoning in California by allowing property owners to subdivide single-family plots into as many as four homes. This will allow for much-needed housing density increases in single-family neighborhoods and will hopefully create an easier path to homeownership for more California residents.
In terms of SB 8 and 10 both laws are also important wins that will make it easier to build more housing. SB 10 will allow cities and counties to bypass the often onerous environmental review process and build as many as 10 homes on a single-family parcel near a transit hub or urban infill development.
SB 8 extends Senator Nancy Skinner’s already-existing law SB 330 (aka the Housing Crisis Act), which accelerates the approval process for housing projects and limits fee increases on housing applications at the local level to 2030.
There have also been some notable legal wins recently. Could you tell us about those that will have positive implications for the pro-housing community?
A recent noteworthy win is the California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund (caRLA) lawsuit against the City of San Mateo. This case is a big legal victory, as it reaffirms the constitutionality of the Housing Accountability Act (HAA), a law that prohibits a city or county from denying a housing project if it complies with objective guidelines.
For some background on this case, San Mateo’s Planning Commission and City Council tried to deny the building of a 4-story, 10-unit project on the grounds that it did not adequately step back from an adjacent single-family home.
The trial court shot for the moon in some respects, concluding both that San Mateo’s design guideline requiring a step back was objective, and that the HAA was unenforceable because it violated the “home rule” provision of the California Constitution.
The court of appeal, however, was unpersuaded. In finding that the HAA is constitutional, it made several helpful points, most importantly that housing is a matter of statewide concern and therefore Sacramento can pass laws encouraging its production.
We’re already seeing its positive effects from this ruling. Just last week, a trial court in Orange County reversed its decision finding that the city of Huntington Beach did not violate the HAA when it denied a housing project on what were pretty clear subjective grounds. Importantly, it also got into one of the few exceptions in HAA and density bonus laws that savvy project opponents are now targeting: health and safety exceptions. It would be great to see a successful result in the new trial, and potentially get a published appellate opinion if the city takes its argument to the Court of Appeal.
Of course our 2021 Housing Heroes have also done a great deal to accelerate pro-housing momentum in cities across the Bay Area and throughout California and beyond. What inspires you about each of this year’s honorees and the impact of their work?
We’re incredibly proud to co-present the Housing Heroes Awards with HAC and always wowed by the accomplishments of each year’s Housing Heroes. Each of this year’s honorees have done remarkable work to accelerate progress on housing across the Bay Area and well beyond.
I agree with Mayor Sam Liccardo’s assessment that honoring Lesley Corsiglia as a Housing Hero was a “no brainer” because she’s dedicated her entire 30-year career to advancing affordable housing initiatives across Silicon Valley.
Professor john powell’s visionary efforts to dismantle structural racism in housing has activated local leaders across the U.S. to take up ending exclusionary zoning with greater urgency than ever.
Berkeley’s City Council beat California state legislators to the punch earlier this year when it voted to end exclusionary zoning earlier this year, about 100 years after the city initially created the concept, and their action has inspired other cities to follow suit.
And as the first mixed-income housing project in San Francisco to utilize SB 35, DM Development’s 300 De Haro Street project is charting a new path for how middle-income housing can be built more quickly and affordably.
All of us at RJR extend our congratulations and appreciation to this year’s honorees!