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Law will force 97.6 percent of California cities to build more

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“It’s clear we need to change”

In 2017, Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 35, a new law that demands California cities build more housing or risk temporarily losing control of some of their permitting and entitlements processes.

Few metros meet the state’s regular Regional Housing Needs Assessments—hence the need for a law to motivate more building—but it wasn’t until Friday, when the California Department of Housing and Community Development released the first assessment of cities that would be subject to the state’s new “streamlining process,” that the full extent of the law’s scope became clear.

It’s almost a clean sweep across the board: 97.6 percent of California cities and counties fall under some provision of SB 35 or another.

Only 13 places have satisfied housing expectations to a legally sufficient degree, among them Hillsborough, Napa County, and Sonoma County. (Note that this refers to the counties at large. Individual cities, including Sonoma and Napa themselves, failed to make the list.)

[Update, 3.20.18: It’s now twelve cities, as San Luis Obispo previously made the list by error.)

The overwhelming majority of metros—378 statewide—are subject to “streamlining for proposed developments with at least ten percent” affordable housing (priced for people making 80 percent of the area median value, per the law), including places like Alameda County at large, Carmel, Colma, Emeryville, Half Moon Bay, Los Altos Hills, Martines, Mill Valley, Millbrae, Pacifica, Pleasant Hill, Richmond, Sausalito, Sonoma, South San Francisco, Tiburon, and Union City.

San Francisco
Even Sausalito is in hot water over housing.
Photo by Otto Fischer/ullstein bild via Getty Images

A second, smaller list of 148 cities lays out those cities subject to the slightly less strenuous standard that fast tracks buildings with at least 50 percent affordable housing, including Alameda, Albany, Atherton, Brisbane, Daly City, El Cerrito, Fremont, Los Altos, Los Gatos, Marin County at large, Milpitas, Napa, Oakland, Orinda, Palo Alto, Pittsburg, Pleasantville, San Jose, San Rafael, Walnut Creek, and—yes—San Francisco.

Not every proposed project will be able to take advantage of SB 35’s fast track to passage in the affected areas, but those that meet the legal requirements will enjoy “by-right approval,” which stifles most tools for blocking new housing as long as it’s properly zoned.

In response, SB 35’s author, State Senator Scott Wiener of San Francisco, said in a press release, “When 97 percent of cities are failing to meet their housing goals, it’s clear we need to change.”

You can read the full list of affected cities and metro areas here.