The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, known as “RLUIPA,” is a federal civil rights law that protects individuals and religious assemblies and institutions from discriminatory and unduly burdensome land use regulations.  Among several key parts of the statute, RLUIPA contains an “equal terms” provision that prohibits any government entity from imposing or implementing a land use regulation in a manner that treats a religious assembly or institution on “less than equal terms” with a nonreligious assembly or institution.  The equal terms provision seeks to address the problem of a local zoning ordinance, either facially or as applied, excluding places of worship where secular assemblies are allowed.

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Senate Bill 330, referred to as the Housing Crisis Act of 2019, contains two major parts intended to accelerate housing production over the next five years by streamlining permitting and ensuring no net loss in housing capacity.  Governor Newsom signed SB 330 into law on October 9, 2019, and it will be in effect from January 1, 2020 until January 1, 2025 unless extended via additional legislation.

The first major part of SB 330 establishes various “good government” requirements that affect the processing of housing development projects in every California city and county.  The second part of the law limits the ability of “affected” cities and counties—a smaller but substantial subset of agencies that are designated by the U.S. Census Bureau as “urbanized areas or urban clusters”—to downzone property and regulates the ability of developers to replace existing housing with new housing.

The focus of this blog post is the powerful new, and applicant-friendly, statutory form of vested rights referred to as a “preliminary application,” contained in the first part of SB 330, over which cities and counties have no discretion.


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California cities may be justified to be skeptical when officials from Sacramento offer broad solutions to the state’s pernicious housing crisis.  But the decades-old crisis highlighted by a severe and unsustainable underproduction of new housing is real and getting worse, and the legislature is finally grappling with land use and housing policy proposals that would put meaningful guardrails on otherwise unfettered local control that has long stifled new housing supply.

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Senate Bill 330, known as the Housing Crisis Act of 2019 and authored by State Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), passed the California legislature on Friday, September 6, 2019, with strong support from numerous organizations supportive of the production of new housing.  For a five-year period ending January 1, 2025, SB 330 would require local governments to process housing permits faster, prevent local governments from “changing the rules in the middle of the game,” and suspend certain housing limits.  Although various local agencies and groups that favor strong local land use control opposed SB 330, Governor Gavin Newsom has publicly championed substantial housing production goals and is certain to sign the bill.

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According to traditional urban economic models, developers in well-functioning housing markets will choose to build apartments where land is expensive and housing demand is strong.  The theory itself is sound: high rents provide strong financial incentives to developers that should lead to an increasing supply of new multi-family housing.

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On July 18, 2019, in Sacramentans for Fair Planning v. City of Sacramento, __ Cal.App.5th __ (2019), the Third District Court of Appeal affirmed a trial court decision denying a “vertical” consistency challenge filed by “Sacramentans for Fair Planning” after the City of Sacramento approved a15-story “high-rise” condominium building—known as the “Yamanee” project—in the City’s Midtown area.  The plaintiff group also challenged the City’s streamlined CEQA review of the project under a sustainable communities environmental assessment (“SCEA”).  My partner, Art Coon, analyzed those issues in the CEQA Developments blog.

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California law contains several critical limitations on the exercise of the police power conferred in Article XI, Section 7 of the state constitution.  As set forth in Government Code section 65858, the moratorium statute allows cities and counties to adopt 45-day “interim ordinances” to prohibit land uses that may conflict with a contemplated general plan amendment or another land use proposal the legislative body is studying or intends to study within a reasonable period of time.  Such ordinances can be extended so that the maximum term of the moratorium does not exceed two years.

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On April 3, 2019, in a case originally filed March 6, 2019, the First District Court of Appeal certified for publication Point San Pedro Road Coalition v. County of Marin, __ Cal.App.5th __ (Case No. A150002) (2019), an interesting opinion addressing the limits of the power local agencies have to approve changes to non-conforming land uses.

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Declaring there to be a statewide housing emergency, California state Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) introduced Senate Bill 330, on February 19, 2019, to suspend certain regulatory restrictions on the development of new housing and to expedite the permitting of housing in certain high-cost regions for a 10-year period.

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On December 6, 2018, the California Attorney General issued an opinion (No. 14-403) in response to a request from Mendocino County Counsel Katherine L. Elliott to address three questions regarding the balance of land use regulatory authority between cities and counties.  According to the request, in 1993 an incorporated city acquired real property, outside the city limits, in an unincorporated area of the County.  When it acquired the property, the city assumed an existing lease that covered a portion of the property, becoming a lessor to the private business that was operating and continues to operate there.  The Attorney General was thus asked, in this context, to determine whether and under what circumstances a city and its private lessee may be exempt from the county’s building and zoning ordinances.

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