California Bills Aim to Bypass Coastal Act to Spur Housing Projects


One bill would let developers apply the Density Bonus Law within the coastal zone, which would allow more units for low-income buyers.

In the midst of a so-called housing crisis, California lawmakers are looking to incentivize new housing, with a handful of bills introduced in 2024 that call for bypassing decades-old coastal protections.

In 1972 California voters passed the Coastal Conservation Initiative, also known as Prop. 20, which established the California Coastal Commission to regulate developments near the state’s coastline. The commission was codified in 1976 when the Legislature passed the Coastal Act, which made the commission a permanent agency and gave it “broad authority” in its regulations, according to the agency’s website.

But as the state continues to push for more housing, which many argue would help solve some of California’s housing affordability issues, some lawmakers have proposed new laws that could override some of the commission’s authority for certain projects.

First proposed in February, Assembly Bill 2560 seeks to eliminate a current provision in state law that prevents developers from applying the state’s Density Bonus Law within the coastal zone. The law allows denser developments that include a portion of “affordable” units sold below market rate. The bill would apply to areas already zoned for housing, according to a press release earlier this month by its author.

“This change in the highly successful ‘Density Bonus Law’ will make sure that communities along the coast also build housing for low- and middle-income Californians. The current law prevents housing along with denying access to California’s coast to the average citizen,” San Diego based Assemblyman David Alvarez said in a March 1 press release.

The bill is waiting to be heard by the Assembly Committee on Housing and Community Development.

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Announced in a February press release, two state Senate bills also seek to change coastal regulations.

State Sen. Scott Wiener said the Coastal Commission "should not be in the business of second-guessing" local housing decisions. Above, Wiener hosts an event in San Francisco on Oct. 23, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
State Sen. Scott Wiener said the Coastal Commission “should not be in the business of second-guessing” local housing decisions. Above, Wiener hosts an event in San Francisco on Oct. 23, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Senate Bill 1077, introduced by Catherine Blakespear, would allow for the construction of Accessory Dwelling Units—also known as granny flats—without the need for a Coastal Development Permit.

The bill would allow homeowners on the coast, who are not near natural resources, to skip the “complicated and time-consuming process” required by the coastal permit, but they would still need permits from the city or county, according to Ms. Blakespear’s Feb. 12 press release.

The bill is waiting to be heard by the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water.

Announced in the same press release, Senate Bill 1092, also authored by the Encinitas-based Democrat Blakespear, would also reduce some of the Coastal Commission’s regulatory power, setting a deadline for appeals on locally approved projects along California’s coast.

Under current law, anyone wishing to build in the coastal zone must obtain a coastal permit from the commission or from a local government that has a commission-approved “local coastal program.”

Appeals can be made to the commission for permits that were approved or denied by local governments, but the Coastal Act doesn’t set time requirements for the appeals process. Ms. Blakespear’s bill would require that the commission “establish specified appeal procedures,” like requiring a deadline for when the appeal must be heard, according to the bill’s text. The bill would apply only to multifamily housing projects.

“This legislation upholds the mission of the Coastal Act and follows what we’re doing across the state to address our housing crisis by reducing the regulatory hurdles to building needed housing,” Ms. Blakespear said of the two bills.

SB 1092 is waiting to be heard by the Senate Rules Committee.

Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat, also proposed a bill this year that would revise the appeals process.

According to Mr. Wiener, local governments that have adopted a coastal program receive the authority to issue coastal permits, but the commission may still appeal those permits.

When a parcel “is permitted for both commercial and residential uses, and a developer wants to alter its use, the commission may file a months-long appeal,” according to Wiener’s press release.

Under SB 951, the commission couldn’t appeal projects that are within the “permitted uses” that were set forth under the coastal program, according to the Jan. 19 press release.

“The Coastal Commission plays an important role in protecting coastal resources like beaches, bluffs, and wetlands, but the commission should not be in the business of second-guessing— and frequently delaying or undermining—local housing decisions in urbanized areas that are not natural resources,” he said in the press release.

The bill is awaiting a hearing by the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water.

Under goals set forth by the state’s housing department, California must build 2.5 million new homes in the next eight years, including 1 million for low- to very-low-income families.


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