Local Control Over New Housing

Aerial shot of neighborhood.


SB 330 would limit many tools developers say local governments artfully deploy to prevent new housing from getting built. Dubbed the “Housing Crisis Act of 2019”, the bill temporarily bans cities from imposing a moratorium on new housing construction, prohibits “downzoning” (changing zoning law to outlaw denser housing like apartment buildings), and prevents cities from raising fees during the development approval process. Intended to stop cities from wiggling out of their state-mandated housing goals, it will be in effect for five years unless re-authorized by the Legislature.


A coalition of developers, tech companies and affordable housing and environmental advocates who argue that California’s severe housing shortage is partly to blame on “not-in-my-backyard” cities obstructing new housing. Backers include the California Building Industry Association (the statewide developer interest group), the State Building & Construction Trades Council (unionized construction workers), California YIMBY (“Yes in my Backyard”), Facebook and the Natural Resources Defense Council. The bill’s author is Berkeley Democratic Sen. Nancy Skinner.


Cities — especially wealthier, suburban ones like Pasadena in Southern California and Mountain View in the Bay Area — chafe against state incursions into what housing gets built where in their communities. The League of California Cities fears that locking in fees early in the development approval process would saddle them with the costs of sewers, parks and other infrastructure for new housing. Also opposed: the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that poured millions into a failed 2017 moratorium on denser housing in L.A.


Cities are in a protracted war with the state over who should control housing decisions. Gov. Newsom ambitiously promised to create 3.5 million new housing units by 2025, and pro-development advocates argue that will mean forcing cities to approve more housing more quickly. A more aggressive approach to forcing cities to allow more housing — SB 50 by Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco–was shelved earlier this year.


While Newsom kept his distance from Wiener’s bill, he publicly endorsed SB 330. He signed it in Los Angeles on Oct. 9, 2019.