Assembly Committee Advances Bill to Strengthen Housing Law Enforcement

Photo by Brandon Griggs on Unsplash

Special to the Vanguard

Sacramento, CA – The Assembly Housing & Community Development Committee passed Senator Scott Wiener’s (D-San Francisco) Senate Bill 1037, which is sponsored by Attorney General Rob Bonta. The bill strengthens the Attorney General’s ability to enforce state housing law with fines against cities that commit egregious violations of the law. This heightened enforcement will create stronger incentives for cities to comply with state housing laws. SB 1037 passed 8-1 and heads next to the Judiciary Committee.

SB 1037 applies only in jurisdictions that have acted arbitrarily, not to cities that make good faith errors. The fines generated by the bill’s civil penalties will be deposited into an affordable housing fund for use in the offending city.

“California is facing a serious housing shortage driven in part by city and state policies that prevented housing construction. Fixing this crisis means we need cities to support housing construction, as the state has done, and to be held accountable when they block housing,” said Senator Wiener. “By providing the Attorney General better tools for swift accountability when cities engage in egregious violations, SB 1037 helps clear the path for California to meet its housing goals.”

SB 1037 enhances the Attorney General’s ability to seek civil penalties in court against local governments that violate state housing law. Currently, when a court finds a locality in violation of state housing law, monetary penalties can only be imposed 60 days, or in some cases up to a year, after a court has ordered compliance.

Local governments thus have no real incentive to follow the law since they can force the state to sue, lose, and then simply remedy the violation at that point and avoid penalties. This is a huge waste of taxpayer resources and undermines California’s housing goals.

Under SB 1037, the Attorney General can instead seek penalties that are assessed from the date that the housing law violation began. Those penalties would be earmarked for affordable housing in the same jurisdiction.

SB 1037 applies to local governments that refuse to adopt a compliant housing element and/or violate a ministerial approval law. If enacted, SB 1037 will subject violators to a minimum civil penalty of $10,000 per month, and not to exceed $50,000 per month, for each violation calculated from the date the violation started. The penalty money would be earmarked to support the development of affordable housing located in the affected jurisdiction.

Under the state’s Housing Element Law, every city and county in California must periodically update its housing plan to meet its share of the regional and statewide housing needs. Laws requiring “ministerial,” or streamlined, approval include Government Code sections 65852.2 and 65852.22, which allow homeowners to add accessory dwelling units, as well as Assembly Bill (AB) 2011 concerning affordable housing projects located in commercial zones. Ministerial review is where public officials, such as local planning staff, ensure that a proposed development meets all applicable objective standards for a proposed action.

SB 1037 is sponsored by Attorney General Rob Bonta.

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