|(October 30, 2017, 9:25 a.m.) -- SB 35 wasn't a secret in its origin or in its rapid advance to passage. As separately reported by LBREPORT.com here, internal records and the actions of LB officials show the City of Long Beach effectively let it pass.
Long Beach City Hall took a position on SB 35 of "neutral" on the measure while "working with the author on amendments, consistent with the City's state legislative agenda as it relates to local control." City Hall's Manager of Government Affairs, Diana Tang, has told LBREPORT.com that she made the decision to take the "neutral" position on SB 35 noting that it was then undergoing amendments.
This was despite a City Council-approved "state legislative agenda" that declared the City would "Oppose legislation that preempts the City's existing control over local matters"..."oppose policies and legislation that preempts the current authority possessed by the City and delegates that authority to the State or other government jurisdiction"..."oppose policies and legislation that diminishes the City's local control over land use, planning, zoning and development decisions, and oppose legislation in conflict with the City's adopted General Plan or other Council adopted land use policies."
LBREPORT.com finds it hard to believe that any city management level person (including City Manager West) would steer the City onto a course so clearly at odds with what its policy-setting City Council had voted to approve unless it was with the tacit or explicit approval of Mayor Garcia and at least some Council members. We think it's brave of Ms. Tang to fall on her sword for the outcome, but we believe other factors drove City Hall's "neutral" stance on SB 35.
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It's seems more likely to us that Mayor Garcia and some Councilmembers decided it was best not to oppose SB 35, which might annoy Sac'to Dem leadership, who might prove useful to them in future races. For some electeds, we suspect the relevant calculation wasn't made on the merits; we believe it was more likely career-driven and political.
In addition, development interests (that can also prove helpful to ambitious politicians) had long wanted changes in the CA Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to curtail pesky public hearings, neighborhood impact reports and appeals. SB 35 was the vehicle to do so.
And while some city planners might genuinely want local control over the outcome of proposed city projects, we doubt city management will miss contentious public hearings, EIRs and other labor-intensive steps in project approvals. In those respects, SB 35 means less work for city staff.
In May 2016, Gov. Brown used his annual proposed budget revision to support major changes to CEQA without mentioning CEQA, framing the issue in different political terms:
Source: Gov. Brown May 13, 2017 FY2016-17 budget revise text] Despite the state's sizeable investment in housing, the number of new units developed continues to be very low when compared to the demand for housing.
On December 5, 2016, the first day of the new legislative session, newly elected state Senator Scott Wiener (D, San Francisco) introduced the type of legislation that Governor Brown invited, which became SB 35.
The bill ultimately underwent ten amendments, but its core elements (curtailing the public's CEQA rights/reducing local land use controls) remained intact. Reduced to its essentials, SB 35 provides a mechanism letting developers avoid CEQA environmental (neighborhood) impact hearings/appeals and can require cities to grant approval to certain large multi-unit residential buildings, regardless of community or city staff or City Council concerns or opposition, in specified circumstances. To view SB 35 in full, (click here..
Regardless of what city management did or didn't do, nothing prevented the City Council from taking an explicit position opposed to SB 35. The Council took explicit positions on other bills (including support for SB 54 [the CA Values Act/"sanctuary state" bill], LBREPORT.com coverage here.) As previously reported by LBREPORT.com, the City of Long Beach also supported (without explicitly voted Council approval) passage of SB 1, the bill that will raise gasoline taxes effective November 1 (LBREPORT.com coverage here.)
The League of CA Cities consistently opposed SB 35. To see a full list of SB 35's supporters/opponents on final passage click here.
The term "CEQA reform" as commonly used, was shorthand for changing CEQA in ways that make it easier for developers to gain swift local approval for their desired projects while making it harder for residents to challenge and appeal those projects. Councilman Roberto Uranga initially voiced resistance to this staff-recommended measure, saying "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." In response, Mayor Garcia said the Council had already voted to support such actions as part of the city's 2017 "state legislative agenda."
But there was no verbiage in the Council-adopted 2017 state legislative agenda mentioning "CEQA reform." Councilman Austin (who chairs the Committee) interjected that in his view such CEQA changes were appropriate, and criticized residents who'd challenged and slowed a housing development in his district [Riverwalk], calling their challenge without merit. [Residents hired a lawyer, filed suit and reached a settlement with the developer that resulted in some changes to the development.]
The colloquy led Assistant City Manager Tom Modica to interject that city staff planned to bring the CEQA reform issue to the Council's State Legislation Committee (chaired by Austin, with members Mungo and Supernaw) where it would be discussed and then brought back to the full City Council for approval. That process never happened.
During a significant May 2 Council colloquy with 1st district Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez, Development Services Director Amy Bodek said that one way the Council could increase the amount of affordable housing in areas beyond downtown was to increase allowable density as part of staff's advancing Land Use Element rewrite. To hear the exchange between Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez and Ms. Bodek, click here.
With city government in L.A.'s second largest City basically self-silenced on SB 35, the outcome fell into place.
On June 1, 2017, LB-area state Senators Ricardo Lara (D, LB-Huntington Park) and Janet Nguyen (R, SE LB-west OC) both voted for SB 35.
SB 35 had the support of Sacramento Democrats' legislative leadership (holding super majorities in the state Senate and Assembly). State Senator Lara, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, could have insisted on changes in the bill (as he's done on other bills.) He didn't. When SB 35 reached the Assembly, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D, NLB-Lakewood-Paramount) supported it.
A week prior to the Assembly's vote, Assemblyman Patrick O'Donnell (D, LB-SP) announced he opposed SB 35 (which Assembly Dem leadership realized wouldn't change the vote outcome.) Shortly thereafter Councilwoman Suzie Price announced she opposed SB 35 (citing local control aspects) and Mayor Robert Garcia privately (quietly) Tweeted to a resident that he likewise opposed the bill. But all that was basically for public consumption.
SB 35 passed the Assembly on Sept. 14 with votes to spare and the state Senate concurred in amendments on Sept. 15. On Sept. 29, Governor Brown signed SB 35 into law as part of a package of housing bills. Dem leadership and housing development interests were ecstatic. To see and hear what they said at the Governor's signing ceremony -- an event MC'd by an "affordable housing" developer -- see at this link.. And notice that several key lawmakers said this wasn't the end of the process; they have more items planned when the state legislature reconvenes.
At its final Land Use Element public meeting (Oct. 18), a city planning staffer tried to downplay the effects of SB 35, suggesting developers may not avail themselves of its "streamlining" process because it includes many statutory prerequisites including paying construction workers a government set "prevailing wage." We find city staff's argument speculative and unpersuasive. Developers didn't support passage of SB 35 because they wouldn't use it; it's true that they don't like the "prevailing wage" verbiage (inserted by Sac'to pols for organized labor) but SB 35 may still provide plenty of incentives in terms of time and money saved.
Meanwhile, SB 3 is now scheduled for a November 2018 statewide vote. It's the financial jet fuel that will propel SB 35. SB 3 bill puts a proposed $4 billion debt bond on the November 2018 statewide ballot. If the public approves it, part of the debt-bond's proceeds can be given to developers of below-market-rent "affordable housing"...with SB 35 on the books to ensure that developers can get permits for such projects without pesky public opposition or City Hall discretion.
And on September 25, Mayor Robert Garcia, without a vote of the LB City Council, signed a letter urging Governor Brown to sign SB 3 (which the Governor had already indicated he'd do and did.)
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