To prevent delays in building urban housing, Assembly Bill 1633, or AB 1633, would strengthen the ability of a project to progress upon completion of an Environmental Impact Review, or EIR, required by the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA.
The bill received final legislative approval Sept. 13, and Governor Gavin Newsom has until Oct. 14 to decide whether to approve the bill, according to a press release from the office of Assemblymember Phil Ting, who authored the bill.
AB 1633 expands the definition of “disapproving a project” to include stalling once the EIR has been completed. Disapproving a project after the completion of an EIR is illegal under California’s Housing Accountability Act, or HAA.
The bill reinforces the HAA in order to prevent local neighbors or jurisdictions from calling for further environmental reviews under CEQA that cause delays to housing projects, Ting said in an email.
UC Davis professor of law Christopher Elmendorf noted how cities invoke CEQA to stall projects that otherwise cannot be rejected or reduced in density under HAA.
While environmental review will continue as outlined by CEQA, this bill addresses its potential use to delay projects, Ting noted. For example, in 2021, a 500-unit construction project in San Francisco was discontinued due to continuous calls for further environmental study and the city’s failure to provide next steps.
In Berkeley specifically, CEQA has been subject to extensive debate, most notably regarding its use in a case preventing UC Berkeley from building student and supportive housing on People’s Park.
Recent legislation has also sought to address CEQA arguments used to stall development — AB 1307 eliminated noise as an environmental factor and the consideration of alternative locations for People’s Park development.
Should AB 1633 pass, however, the park will not be impacted as it is under the university’s jurisdiction, not the HAA ordinance.
“What my bill does is it reiterates that once the mandatory CEQA review is complete and deemed legally sufficient, a housing project can proceed,” Ting said in the email. “The goal is to prevent unnecessary delays, which we cannot afford since we need new housing as soon as possible.”
CA YIMBY spokesperson Matthew Lewis believes this bill is the key to creating climate-friendly urban housing with direct access to pre-established transit, electricity and infrastructure, and thus preventing construction on wetlands and agricultural lands.
Lewis noted that multi-family housing uses less energy and would reduce people’s carbon footprints overall as they live in more efficient forms of housing.
“When you build in an urban setting where everything is closer, that in and out of itself will reduce the footprint of all the residents in that housing across the board,” Lewis said.