On Tuesday, June 26, legislation to address the affordable housing shortage as it relates to California’s coastal zone unanimously passed the Senate Natural Resources Committee. AB 2797, authored by Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), clarifies state density bonus law to ensure that a project cannot be found inconsistent with the California Coastal Act merely because it receives a density increase under state law, while also ensuring that coastal resources are protected, as the Act requires.
“AB 2797 addresses a recent court case, Kalnel Gardens, LLC v. City of Los Angeles, which undermined the application of Mello and Density Bonus Law in the coastal zone,” said Assemblymemeber Bloom. “If not corrected, the decision will likely prevent Density Bonus Law from being used in the coastal zone, resulting in fewer affordable housing units”
The holding in, Kalnel Garden, LLC v. City of Los Angeles, has undermined the application of Mello and Density Bonus Law in the coastal zone. In Kalnel, a developer proposed a small residential development in the Venice area of Los Angeles that included affordable units in compliance with the Mello Act and a density bonus under state law. Pursuant to density bonus law, the developer was allowed to exceed the normal density restrictions for that location because the two units would be designated for very low-income households. Although the project was consistent with both local planning and zoning and Density Bonus Law, the local government denied the project on the basis that the increased density made the project visually incompatible with the surrounding neighborhood violation of the Coastal Act. The appellate court upheld the denial, finding that the Coastal Act supersedes Density Bonus Law.
The Coastal Act regulates development within the state’s coastal zone. The coastal zone includes a three-mile wide band of ocean and on land varies in width from several hundred feet in high urbanized areas up to five miles in some rural areas. State Density Bonus Law requires cities and counties to grant a density bonus and other incentives and concessions to affordable and market-rate housing developers in exchange for including affordable units in a development. Among its benefits, the law incentivizes the creation of affordable housing without additional subsidies. The Mello Act, meanwhile, requires the preservation and production of affordable housing within the coastal zone. Under the Act, developers typically must replace affordable housing units in the coastal zone when they are demolished, and must include affordable units in new housing developments if feasible. One tool to ensure that the units feasibly can be built is density bonus law, which could be at risk in the coastal zone post-Kalnel Gardens, LLC.
“While we continue to work to address the affordable housing crisis, it is critical that we do everything we can to maximize affordable housing preservation in California coast cities,” said Bloom. “There are many reasons for California’s housing crisis but one important reason are inappropriate restrictions imposed on housing by local governments. AB 2797 ensures that the state density bonus law remains a tool for achieving affordable units in the coastal zone.”
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