Will YIGBYs say ‘Hallelujah!’ in 2023?
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Will YIGBYs say ‘Hallelujah!’ in 2023?

Brownstein Client Alert, Dec. 9, 2022

Supporters of the Yes In God’s Back Yard (YIGBY)* movement made a joyful noise this week when California State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) announced that he was reintroducing legislation to allow by-right development of subsidized affordable housing on land owned by religious institutions. Following a press conference in San Francisco to announce the bill, Sen. Wiener said the measure would be “a game changer for affordable housing”.

Senate Bill 4 (SB 4) would require ministerial approval of a development application on any land owned by either an independent institution of higher education or a religious institution on or before Jan. 1, 2024.

The project would have to meet a number of criteria to be eligible for the streamlining:

  • affordability requirements (100% of the units must be affordable to lower-income households, with an option to make 20% of the units affordable to moderate-income households)
  • compliance with objective standards set by the local jurisdiction
  • parking minimums (with certain exceptions)
  • specified labor standards on projects over 50 units

Projects proposed under the bill would still be eligible for a density bonus or other incentives and concessions, and the parking minimums are not applicable if the development is within one-half miles of a high-quality transit corridor or major transit stop. Interestingly, parking minimums are also waived if the project is within one block of a “car share vehicle.”

By making YIGBY applications ministerial, SB 4 also sidesteps the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), California’s flagship environmental law, and discretionary land use permitting processes that might otherwise apply. Not only will this speed the processing time of YIGBY applications by many months but also eliminate two causes of action commonly used by Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) project opponents to challenge affordable housing projects in court.

A 2020 study conducted by UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation on a prior iteration of the bill found that there are approximately 38,000 acres of land owned by religious institutions statewide that are large enough to facilitate development. While the study did not analyze the feasibility of development on these parcels, a conservative estimate that only 25% of the land is developable could still yield nearly 300,000 new units.

The legislation represents the third such effort from Sen. Wiener, following similar measures that stalled in 2020 and 2022. A companion measure from Assembly Housing Chair Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland), which eased parking requirements for religious institutions that develop affordable housing on their property, did manage to advance in 2020. Previous efforts faced significant headwinds from the powerful State Building and Construction Trades Council of California (SBCTC), which advocates for strong labor protections on housing bills that grant concessions to developers. Specifically, the SBCTC pushes for the inclusion of “skilled and trained” requirements for labor contractors, which mandates that developers utilize a certain percentage of approved union labor for all stages of project construction.

Advocates are hopeful that the inclusion of new labor language in SB 4 developed in conjunction with the Northern California Carpenters Union and recently utilized in another controversial streamlining bill (see Brownstein’s client alert on AB 2011 here), will allow the bill to succeed this year. 

Despite the challenges facing the bill, shifting political winds in Sacramento could lead to a successful outcome this year. If the measure becomes law, we are likely to see more attempts by policymakers to get creative in identifying opportunities for infill development and more partnering with non-traditional allies to break down long-established political battle lines. In the next legislative session, YIGBYs are hoping that with God in your backyard, all things (even building housing in California) are possible. 

*YIGBY is the registered trademark of YIGBY San Diego.

This document is intended to provide you with general information regarding California Senate Bill 4. The contents of this document are not intended to provide specific legal advice. If you have any questions about the contents of this document or if you need legal advice as to an issue, please contact the attorneys listed or your regular Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP attorney. This communication may be considered advertising in some jurisdictions. The information in this article is accurate as of the publication date. Because the law in this area is changing rapidly, and insights are not automatically updated, continued accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

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