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Gov. Brown's Law Could Fast Track Buildings Up to 95 Percent Market-Rate

This could also spell disaster for NIMBYs

Jerry Brown and the state legislature might be about to drop a bomb on San Francisco’s entitlements process. The governor has proposed a new law (attached to the state budget, set for a vote June 1) that would grant as-of-right status to any new development that meets a few basic requirements for BMR housing.

That would mean cutting most new big developments free from the burden of acquiring conditional-use permits and other special permissions at the city level. While this wouldn’t quite mean complete and utter permitting anarchy—in which everybody who wants to build gets to rush the gates and start putting posts in the ground—it would accelerate San Francisco’s building pipeline by years, and completely reshape the city process.

Brown’s Streamlining Affordable Housing Approvals act (section 65400.1 of the state code) specifies that new housing "would be permitted use by right" as long as "at least 20 percent of units are occupied by individuals whose income is 80 percent or less of area median gross income."

For development near (i.e., half a mile) major transit centers, the door opens even wider: Only 10 percent of the units need be priced for low income households, or five percent for "very low" income households. In San Francisco, low income means $65,700 a year for one person or $93,850 for a family of four; very low income is $41,050 for one person and $58,600 for four.

Yes, this means that it’s entirely possible that projects with 95 percent market-rate units would see approval. Design review would still happen, but would be limited to 90 days.

There would still be restrictions, of course: Affordable units must stay that way for 30 years, and all zoning requirements (including height and density limits) would still count. Nevertheless, this would chop months or even years off of most projects, and trump the city’s own affordable housing rubric (presently 12 percent for the majority of developments over ten stories, although that could change).

According to the San Francisco Business Times, the governor frames it as a practical solution, telling reporters "if you want some assisted housing, you're going to have to reduce some of the regulatory burdens."

Of course, this assumes the bill passes in its present form. Local governments are sure to lean on state legislators to preserve their own authority.