How a San Jose senator aims to cut red tape on affordable housing
State Sen. Dave Cortese has a bill awaiting Gov. Gavin Newsom's signature that would streamline development through a change to CEQA, the state's main environmental law. Photo courtesy of Cortese's office.

    A South Bay senator is hoping to speed up affordable housing production statewide with a new bill aimed at trimming back red tape in California’s main environmental law.

    State Sen. Dave Cortese’s bill, SB 406, would grant local agencies who help fund affordable housing an exemption from a provision of California’s Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) that requires an additional layer of review for such projects. The bill, coauthored by state Sen. Kelly Seyarto of Murrieta, passed in the state Legislature last week and is headed to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk for consideration.

    While all affordable housing proposals are required to undergo a standard review of a project’s impact on the environment, those that receive funding from cities, counties or other local government agencies are currently saddled with a second review of the funding package under CEQA.

    Cortese said the additional review is repetitive, causes delays and increases costs of affordable housing. The exemption his bill would grant local governments is similar to one already in place for any state-funded affordable housing projects.

    “It’s a very straightforward bill, it’s a simple bill, because it basically takes that second CEQA hearing out completely,” Cortese told San José Spotlight.

    Cortese said the bill doesn’t compromise any environmental protection, because it does not affect the first, full environmental review of any project that is required before construction can start.

    Cortese said his office worked with county housing officials to learn about how an added review of the funding for an affordable project has slowed the process of getting critically needed housing built.

    “And they said it’s absolutely a problem. Months and months of delays, at some points,” Cortese said.

    Cortese noted when he served on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments five years ago, the regional goal was to build 600,000 homes over 10 years at different income levels to keep up with the regional jobs growth.

    “We’re nowhere near that,” Cortese said. “There may be a variety of factors contributing to that, like a lack of capital and high interest rates, but we know one of the factors is that when we do get approvals, we’re still not able to go fast enough.”

    The lack of enough affordable housing only exacerbates the homelessness crisis in the South Bay and other regions, Cortese said.

    Data from this year shows nearly 10,000 people are homeless in Santa Clara County, dropping slightly from 2022 in both the county and San Jose.

    Affordable housing officials and developers are in support of the new bill.

    “Charities Housing is delighted to see that SB 406 has passed both houses of the Legislature,” Kathy Robinson, director of development for the nonprofit affordable housing builder, told San José Spotlight. “It will be incredibly helpful in our efforts to produce affordable housing to have further streamlining of the CEQA process.”

    Preston Prince, executive director of the Santa Clara County Housing Authority, said Cortese’s efforts on affordable housing are a boon to the community.

    “SB 406 will give local public agencies the nimbleness to fund affordable housing without duplicating environmental review,” Prince told San José Spotlight. “This will accelerate the creation of affordable housing and benefit families and individuals in dire need.”

    Cortese said the bill didn’t face any opposition in the Legislature and he expects the governor will sign it, especially since Newsom put forward several bills aimed at streamlining CEQA and speeding up a variety of development projects earlier this year.

    “We really need to double down the pace,” Cortese said. “This is just one more effort to make the housing production process go a little quicker, and maybe we can catch up.”

    Contact Joseph Geha at [email protected] or @josephgeha16 on Twitter.

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