California Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a bill that makes it easier for universities to build housing for students in a win for housing advocates.
Assembly Bill 1307 was signed into law Thursday after it landed on the governor’s desk after receiving widespread support in the state legislature.
Authored by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland), AB 1037 was drafted in response to a February court ruling that blocked a new housing project by the University of California, Berkeley.
The proposed housing project, located at People’s Park adjacent to campus, was challenged on the basis that noise from the eventual new residents would have an impact on the environment.
The housing project was previously supported by the State Legislature and Gov. Newsom and had received a $100 million investment in the 2022-23 state budget.
In response, Newsom voiced his support for the project by filing an amicus briefing, and called on the California Supreme Court to overturn the decision. The California Supreme Court ultimately agreed to hear the case.
But before it got to California’s highest court, Wicks wrote new legislation that officially kills the ability for a housing project to be stalled due to noise from its residents under the pretense of environmental concerns.
Newsom’s office decried the initial court ruling as a clear case of the misuse of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), an environmental protection law that is meant to protect the state from development that has a negative impact on the local environment. In recent years, housing advocates have argued that CEQA was being abused in a deliberate attempt to cause unnecessary hurdles for developers looking to build new housing units, which state officials say are desperately needed.
The governor called the blocking of the Berkeley housing project an example of “NIMBYism,” an acronym used by housing advocates that plays off the expression, “Not In My Backyard.”
He thanked Wicks and other legislative leaders for taking the time to draft the legislation needed to counteract the court ruling and other CEQA abuses, which he says have blocked “critically needed housing for years and even decades.”
In a statement released Thursday, Wicks said the new law affirms that “people are not pollution,” which she says reestablishes 50 years of CEQA precedent.
“This will help UC Berkeley move forward with more than 1,200 units of housing, including 160 units for formerly homeless individuals,” Wicks said. “Just as importantly, AB 1307 provides more certainty for housing projects across the state, instead of more red tape and higher construction costs.”
The bill also eliminates a second requirement that called for public universities to consider alternative locations for their housing projects, even if specified requirements have already been met.
California officials say the state has invested and planned for around $4 billion in grants to fund new affordable student housing at below-market rates at the state’s public colleges and universities.
Student housing is an oft-cited contributing factor in the state’s housing shortage, as many schools admit more students than they can house, leaving surrounding towns with the burden of housing them.
UC Santa Barbara, a university nestled in one of the most expensive counties in the state with some of the lowest density housing, is facing legal threats from the neighboring city of Goleta and Santa Barbara County for allegedly not holding up its end of an agreement to build more student housing on campus.
The housing crisis in California has become one of the main points of emphasis for the governor’s administration.
Since taking office, Newsom has signed more than 70 bills aimed at “kick starting” housing development and streamlining the building process, including more than 20 bills that reform and clarify the language of CEQA, which opponents argue has too much broad power on the state’s infrastructure and housing projects.
In the last several weeks, California has announced more than $1 billion in grants awarded to organizations that want to build environmentally friendly housing and green transit projects in “jobs-rich” areas, as well as accelerating the process of building climate-friendly homes by covering some of the expensive upfront costs of building out the infrastructure required as part of the pre-development process.
California has set ambitious goals to build 2.5 million new homes over the next several years, including 1 million specifically designated as “affordable.”
But the state continues to face massive challenges to reach that goal. Last month, the California Association of Realtors announced that housing affordability in the Golden State hit a 16-year low.
In response to rising home prices and stalling development, Newsom has indicated he plans to cut red tape in order to build more green energy projects, particularly in the housing sector, to meet his lofty expectations