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New streamlined approval process for qualifying multi-family infill projects

Last September, Governor Brown signed a package consisting of 15 housing-related bills. As a whole, these bills constitute some of the legislature’s most significant actions in recent years designed to address the state of California’s housing crisis.

One of the core bills is SB 35, which provides a streamlined, ministerial process for qualifying multi-family infill projects. The bill will give the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) the authority to implement its terms and create guidelines.  

Approval criteria

For a project to qualify under SB 35’s entitlement streamlining, they must be able to comply with the following requirements:

  • They must pass design review standards and be consistent with zoning.
  • Be located within a zoned urban area or a site approved for residential/residential mixed-use, with at least two-thirds of the total square footage designated for residential purposes.
  • Be established within a locality deemed by the HCD wherein the number of units with building permits issued by the locality is less than the locality’s RHNA.
  • Allot a minimum percentage of the total units to accommodate households earning below 80 percent of the median income in the area.
  • Require the payment of existing wages, should the project contain a total of more than ten units and used a “skilled and trained workforce” in order to complete the development.

SB 35 cannot be applied to projects that are located on or within a:

  • Coastal zone
  • Prime farmland
  • Farmland that is considered of statewide importance
  • Wetlands designated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Extremely high fire hazard zone (with certain exceptions)
  • Hazardous waste site (with certain exceptions)
  • Earthquake fault zone (with certain exceptions)
  • Floodplain/floodway (with certain exceptions)
  • Conservations that fall under a protection plan for natural resources
  • Land marked for conservation easement
  • Existing site with affordable housing that requires demolition for a new project
  • Land requiring subdivision
  • Site subject to certain laws encompassing mobile homes

Requirements and timeline for streamlined review

Under SB 35, a development proponent will be tasked to submit an application in order for a development to undergo a streamlined, ministerial review. The bill will expedite timelines that will require local governments to (i) inform applicants regarding any potential conflicts between the project and applicable development standards and (ii) conduct a design analysis.

Should a local government under SB 35 deem that a proposed project is inconsistent with planning standards, it will have 60 to 90 days (starting from submission of a development application) to issue a written explanation containing the reason(s) as to how the project conflicts or does not meet the standards.

In addition, a local government under SB 35 has 90 or 180 days (which will depend on the size of the project) to administer applicable design review of the project, which will be required to be objective and based on consistency of the project with regards to the criteria for streamlined projects.

Visit this page to see the entire bill information on SB 35.