On May 20, 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill (SB) 7, known as the Housing + Jobs Expansion & Extension Act. SB 7 extends the provisions of legislation enacted in 2011 (Assembly Bill 900) that created an expedited judicial review process under CEQA for large development projects that met certain criteria. AB 900 was repealed by its own terms on January 1, 2021.
SB 7 reenacts and updates AB 900 in order to “expedite the development and construction of urgently needed housing, clean energy, low carbon, and environmentally-beneficial projects, and the jobs they create.” The bill notes that numerous large projects under consideration in California have the potential to create thousands of high-skill, high-wage jobs. Many of these projects will replace old and outdated facilities with newer, cleaner, and innovative facilities that will lead the nation in environmental impact mitigation and reduction.
Thus the bill streamlines and facilitates development projects in a number of ways. First, the Governor may certify a project before the lead agency certifies a final EIR. Second, the environmental review, administrative process, and record of proceedings may be prepared concurrently. Third, the project applicant must agree to pay trial court costs if the lead agency’s certification is challenged. Fourth, to the extent feasible, judicial review of lead agency action must conclude within 270 days once commenced. Finally, the Bill extends the benefits of AB 900 to those projects that were certified by the Governor before AB 900’s expiration and by the lead agency within one year of AB 900’s expiration.
In order to be eligible for streamlined certification, a project must fall into at least one of the following categories. It must be on an infill site, certified as LEED Gold (or better), and able to achieve a 15% improvement in transportation efficiency. Or it must be a clean energy project that either generates power exclusively through wind or solar energy or manufactures equipment used in renewable energy production. Or it must be a housing project on an infill site that will dedicate at least 15% of the development to affordable and low-income housing. Although it may include mixed-use development—assuming at least two-thirds is residential—or transitional housing, no part of a certified housing project may be used for transient lodging, manufacturing, or industrial uses.
Regardless of the category it falls into, the project must meet certain criteria. First, it must result in at least $100 million in investment in California (except for housing projects, which must result in an investment of between $15 million and $100 million). It must also create high-wage and high-skill jobs that help reduce unemployment and encourage apprenticeship training. And, at a minimum, it must not lead to a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions, including from employee transportation. Finally, the project applicant must agree to monitoring and enforcement of its mitigation efforts by the lead agency.
SB 7 aims to boost California’s economic recovery by creating more and better housing and jobs, and doing so in an environmentally sustainable way. As Governor Newsom noted when he signed the legislation, “California’s recovery from the pandemic must tackle the housing shortage that threatens our economic growth and long-term prosperity. Cutting red tape to save time and remove barriers to production helps us meet the urgent need for more housing while creating good jobs and preserving important environmental review.” Indeed, AB 900 had already led to roughly twenty major clean energy and housing projects, 10,000 housing units, and thousands of high paying jobs. Proponents of SB 7 hope its passage will continue this trend.
The Governor’s press release is available here: https://www.gov.ca.gov/2021/05/20/in-san-jose-governor-newsom-signs-legislation-to-fast-track-key-housing-economic-development-projects-in-california/
– Blake C. Hyde