San Jose could be exempt from CEQA for homeless housing under proposed bill

    In what could be another tool to address homelessness in San Jose, state representatives for the city are hoping to pass an amended bill that will exempt certain regulations for building homeless shelters.

    Assembly Bill 143 amends existing laws to grant cities and counties an exemption from certain building regulations and environmental analysis under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, if they declare a shelter crisis.

    A city or county can declare a shelter crisis when it cannot create enough housing for the homeless population and officials declare the “health and safety of unsheltered persons is threatened by a lack of shelter.”

    According to the bill introduced by Silicon Valley Assemblyman Ash Kalra, emergency housing may include homeless shelters for the homeless located or constructed on any land owned or leased by a city or county. This includes land acquired with low- and moderate-income housing funds.

    And if the city or county determines that local or state law could hinder or delay the ability to build housing to reduce “the effects of the shelter crisis,” the bill allows them to ease building restrictions and health and safety codes to design, develop and operate homeless shelters.

    Under the bill, the state’s Housing and Community Development Department would review and approve building plans, but the proposed legislation allows cities to bypass CEQA to quickly build housing for the homeless population.

    The bill is co-authored by Assemblymember Kansen Chu and Senator Jim Beall, who also represent San Jose, among other lawmakers.

    “Although this is not a new law, the amendments to this special statute and exemption from certain requirements provided by AB 143 for these jurisdictions — which would now include San Jose if the bill were to be signed into law — would help streamline and expedite the process in which homeless shelters or supportive housing are created,” said Roseryn Bhudsabourg, a spokeswoman for Kalra.

    Bhudsabourg said that Kalra “supports these efforts to help provide local jurisdictions like San Jose with additional tools to address homelessness in our local communities.”

    Mayor Sam Liccardo told San José Spotlight that he supports the bill, especially as San Jose struggles to build housing quickly enough to shelter some of the 4,000 people who are homeless each night.

    “In San José, we’re acutely aware of the urgency with which we must confront our homelessness crisis,” Liccardo said. “AB 143 would offer San Jose the same flexibility to more rapidly house our homeless neighbors that other cities and counties across the state already enjoy.”

    Other cities that can bypass CEQA and other regulations when a shelter crisis is declared include Emeryville, Berkeley, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, the city and county of San Francisco and Santa Clara County. The legislation would expand those exemptions to San Jose.

    Some Silicon Valley nonprofits that work to end homelessness, however, could not comment on the bill. Officials from Destination: Home said they were not familiar with the bill and HomeFirst Santa Clara County declined comment.

    The bill is in being worked on in the Committee on Housing and Community Development before it will be presented to the Assembly. It’s expected to return to the committee on April 24.

    Contact Aliyah Mohammed at [email protected] or follow Aliyah_JM on Twitter.

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