Today, Scott Wiener made news by introducing SB 423, which extends and strengthens his landmark 2018 housing streamlining law law SB 35. This post is about what SB 35 does and why SB 423 matters.

Most people think that building housing is pretty straightforward: cities create zoning to tell developers what they can build, developers design projects that conform to the zoning rules, submit their plans, and get permission to build. Sounds reasonable, right?

The reality is much more complicated. Without getting too far into why they do this, a lot of cities require what’s called discretionary permitting, which replaces the clear, predictable, rules-based process of zoning compliance with a political negotiation with elected officials.

Discretionary permit processes let elected officials ignore their cities’ zoning rules and impose whatever standards they want on new projects. They can also slow projects down, to the point where developers just give up. You’ve probably heard about some of these cases.

In San Francisco, where discretionary review of all new housing projects is written into the city charter, the Board of Supervisors voted to reject a plan to build 500 apartments on a surface parking lot near a train station. In Lafayette, the city government has tied up a developer’s plan to build 350 homes near a BART stop for years, inspiring Conor Dougherty’s classic history of the early YIMBY movement.

Here’s where SB 35 comes in. SB 35 basically tells cities that they have to actually let people build housing that follows local zoning rules.

How does it work? If your city is behind on meeting its state housing targets, SB 35 requires cities swiftly approve projects that (a) include 20% below-market housing, and (b) conform to local zoning. And the main thing to know about SB 35 is that it WORKS: SB 35 has been the largest driver of affordable housing development in the state since its passage, developing over 18,000 homes, including 10,000 units of affordable housing in the 4 years since it went into effect.

Now we need to strengthen and extend this law (which sunsets at the end of 2025) to ensure cities across California can deliver on their housing goals.

SB 423 extends SB 35’s main provisions, streamlining housing that is 10% affordable at 90% AMI in cities that are behind on their above-moderate income RHNA goals and housing that is 50% affordable at 80% AMI in cities behind on their below-market RHNA goals. Additionally, it adds some labor requirements similar to those in last year’s AB 2011.

From the authors:

SB 423 will deliver on SB 35’s promise of mixed-income housing development by amending the labor provisions of the law. Under SB 423, contractors that build SB 35 projects of at least 50 units must offer employment opportunities to state-registered apprentices. The Bill also requires contractors for projects of 50 units or more to pay for health care expenses of construction workers and their dependents.

These protections mirror those signed into law under last year’s AB 2011, Assemblymember Buffy Wicks’s law to streamline approvals along commercial corridors. They will extend labor protections to the hundreds of thousands of residential construction workers in California that currently operate in the shadows with no protections at all. Over 80% of California’s residential construction workers identify as Latino, and the vast majority rely on Medi-Cal and over-subscribed housing programs. Nearly half receive some form of public assistance.

While Abundant Housing has not endorsed the bill yet—we need to run the proposal through our formal endorsement process—SB 423 is supported by a broad coalition including the California Conference of Carpenters, the Inner City Law Center, California YIMBY, the Local Initiative Support Corporation, and the California Housing Consortium.