Wednesday, April 27, 2022

By Joseph D. Smith, AICP, Principal at California Coastal Works

A new housing bill is on the horizon that would place deadlines, streamlining and reporting requirements on building permit approvals for multi-family projects. AB 2234 (R. Rivas) is on its way through the California legislature and could be the key to getting more market and affordable housing units under construction in the Golden State.

Give a “Hear Hear!” if you can identify with this statement: “If the State is in a housing crisis, why does it take so long to get building permits?”

Since 2019, the California State legislature is laser-focused on passing legislation to streamline and expedite the approval of “housing development projects” (i.e., housing projects with two or more units). To-date, the focus has targeted the “entitlement phase” of housing approvals – the process that comes before an applicant requests building permits or other types of post-approvals such as demolition permits, grading permits or approvals for off-site improvements. Generally, the entitlement phase is administered by a city or county’s planning or development services department, public works or engineering department. Over the last few years, State legislation has taken direct steps to impact local rules related to zoning compliance, conditional use permitting, low density and parking requirements for multi-family projects. These measures are intended to address the State’s housing crisis with the ultimate goal of increasing housing stock and affordability across the State.

But there’s been a bottleneck in the process – the building approval process (a.k.a. the “post-entitlement phase”). Whether it’s due to applicants not providing enough information to a city/county building department or that the city/county building department is not reviewing applications in a timely fashion, there are delays. For some, these delays have resulted in several months or years to pass before a project gets its building permits – development costs go up, land carrying costs can be severe, and housing production statewide is slowed.

Consider it a stone left unflipped…until now.

Building plan check and building permits are referred to as the “post-entitlement phase” in AB 2234. Introduced by Assemblymember Robert Rivas (D-Salinas), AB 2234 is a direct attempt to open up this bottleneck and get more projects under construction. Recognizing that the building plan check process is not subject to the review requirements of the State’s Permit Streamlining Act, projects in building plan check are not subject to laws that govern the process or turnaround timeframes. If signed into law, major changes are coming to how cities and counties review and issue building permits for housing development projects.  

But it’s not just building departments that will be on the hook.  AB 2234 would also establish time limits for other permits needed to begin residential development including permits for off-site improvements, demolition, excavation, grading, and the like.

Notably, AB 2234 ties the “post-entitlement permit” process to the State’s Housing Accountability Act (HAA). This means that agencies would be accountable for their post-entitlement permit processes. For example, if an agency fails to meet the time limits stipulated in the bill, it would be in violation of the HAA and the application could be deemed complete by nature of the delay.

In brief, AB 2334’s proposed time limits are as follows:

- Completeness reviews are required within 15 calendar days after an agency receives an application.

- If deemed incomplete, an agency must provide a list of incomplete items and a description of how to make the application complete.

- After resubmittal, the agency has 15 calendar days to complete another completeness review.

- If an agency does not meet its turnaround time, the application is deemed complete.

- Once deemed complete, the agency must approve or deny the permit within 30 calendar days for developments with 25 or fewer units, or 60 calendar days for projects with 26 or more units.

Under the proposed bill, agencies must also provide an appeals process for applications deemed incomplete or denied, and must act on an appeal within 60 calendar days for projects with 25 or fewer units or 90 calendar days for projects with 26 or more units.

To bolster communication and provide more certainty, agencies are required to compile lists of information required for post-entitlement permits and display the checklists on their websites by January 1, 2024. For larger jurisdictions, applicants must also be able to apply for post-entitlement permits electronically by January 1, 2024.

For further information on AB 2234, visit the following links:

Bill Text

Bill Analysis

Posted on:

Wednesday, April 27, 2022




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