Information provided by the League of California Cities
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 raised significant concerns over these proposals, which may be viewed online, at hearings held last Wednesday 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.
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 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.
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.
Budget subcommittee hearings seem to be advancing quickly this year. 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.
1) Call YOUR Senator and Assembly Member ASAP.
Tell them you oppose the proposal by the Governor to pre-empt local discretionary land use approvals of specified housing developments by having all such approvals be considered “ministerial” actions, meaning eliminating opportunities for public review, project-level environmental review and restricting design review. Eliminating opportunities for public review of these major development projects goes against the principles of local democracy and public engagement. While it may be frustrating for some developers to hear concerns about traffic, parking and other development impacts, those affected by such projects have a right to be heard. Not having such outlets will increase public distrust in government.
You can find your Legislator’s contact information here: http://findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov/.