AEP Capitol Day Recap & Legislative Update March 2021

Almost exactly a year ago AEP visited the Capitol and lobbied legislators in person just one week before the building would be shut down. What was meant at the time to be a two-week closure turned into a six-week delay to session and the building has still not reopened to the public. Due to the pandemic, AEP’s Legislative Review Committee did its Capitol Days over Zoom this year. While we missed walking the hallways, seeing legislators and staff in person, and enjoying lunch and dinner together, it was a very productive three days on March 9, 10 and 11.

We held numerous Zoom meetings with key legislators and staff to discuss AEP, our mission and approach, and policies we are engaging on. On Thursday, March 11, we held a CEQA 101 briefing for legislative staff to teach the basics of what CEQA is and how it works. This is always an important event for AEP to ensure that we maintain a presence in the Capitol and are seen as a resource for policymakers.

Over the three days, AEP met with Assemblymember Luz Rivas, the new chair of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee; Asm. David Chiu, the chair of the Assembly Housing & Community Development Committee; and Senator John Laird, the newly elected Senator who is the former Secretary of Natural Resources under Governor Brown and now sits on the Senate Environmental Quality and Judiciary Committees. All three members are deeply involved in CEQA, housing and environmental policymaking.

AEP’s Legislative Review Committee also met with a dozen key staff, including Kip Lipper with Pro Tem Atkins’ office, Katie Kolitsos with Speaker Rendon’s office, Lawrence Lingbloom with the Asm. NR Committee, and Steve Wertheim with the Asm. Housing Committee. These are always very productive meetings during our annual visits as we are able to dive into details of certain bills and policies.

As always, we also met with staff at the Office of Planning and Research during our Capitol Days. OPR updated us on some new projects they are undertaking. They are soon to finalize their housing project mapping tool, Site Check, which helps identify which definitions and criteria apply to different parcels in the state. The tool is a useful first step at determining whether any streamlining measures may apply to a specific project. AEP members are encouraged to try out the tool and provide feedback. Similarly, OPR is undergoing a complete update to their website, and it encouraging practitioners to provide any comments or suggestions that would make it more useful and user friendly.

Our virtual visit to the Capitol came at a very interesting time in California politics. The state has emerged from the COVID-19 surge of the holidays and spirits appear high while cases continue to remain low. Governor Newsom and the Legislature have passed the Golden State Stimulus, protected renters from eviction, and struck a deal for schools to begin reopening soon. Newsom touted his recent successes during his State of the State address, which this year was delayed from February to March and took place in an empty Dodger Stadium during prime time as opposed to in the Capitol on a quiet morning. The tone was also different from usual as the Governor balances the sober reality of the impact the virus has had with the hopefulness of vaccines and a reopening economy. The last part is especially important to Newsom as he begins campaigning to defeat a recall effort against him. The recall effort, which is almost certain to qualify, will likely result in a statewide election this fall.

On the policy front, legislative and budget priorities continue to be COVID recovery, education, and housing, with the latter being especially relevant to AEP. The state Senate introduced a package of housing production bills which it hopes will help stem the skyrocketing costs of housing in the state. Committee hearings have begun on these bills. Thus far, SB 7 has already moved through the Senate to the Assembly and SB 6 has passed from its first policy committee. The Building Opportunities for All package includes:
  • SB 5 (Atkins) establishes a statewide affordable housing bond for $6.5 billion.
  • SB 6 (Caballero) allows certain housing developments to be built on land zoned for office or
  • retail commercial.
  • SB 7 (Atkins) recasts and expands the AB 900 Environmental Leadership program, which
  • requires expedited judicial review of CEQA challenges to certain types of projects, with a new
  • emphasis on housing projects.
  • SB 9 (Atkins) allows certain duplexes and lot-splits in single-family residential zones by-right.
  • SB 10 (Wiener) grants local governments the ability to rezone parcels close to job centers,
  • transit and existing urbanized areas to allow up to 10 residential units without undergoing CEQA
  • review under certain circumstances.
  • SB 15 (Portantino) establishes a grant program to incentivize local governments to rezone idle
  • retail sites for specified housing.

In addition to these housing related bills, AEP is also closely monitoring a large number of climate adaptation and sea level rise bills. SB 1 (Atkins) would require the Coastal Commission to consider sea level rise in resource planning and require regional entities to mitigate the effects of sea level rise, along with establishing a grant programs to assist in the planning and implementation at the regional/local level. SB 1 passed this week from the Senate Natural Resources & Water Committee. AB 11 (Ward) would require the Strategic Growth Council to establish 12 regional climate change authorities to coordinate climate adaptation and mitigation activities in their regions and coordinate with others statewide.

AEP continues to monitor and analyze bills as they are amended and set for hearings. The policy committee process is just getting underway in Sacramento. Hearings will pick up for the next two months before each house has to pass bills from their respective chambers. After that deadline in June, bills move to their second house and the process begins again. It remains unlikely that the Capitol will reopen to the public this year, so AEP will continue to advocate on bills and monitor hearings remotely.