State tightening grip on local housing policy, legislative analyst says

As the City of Thousand Oaks ratifies and puts into practice its new general plan, its long-term blueprint for development, it will be doing so in a changing landscape of ever more state control.

“The state is mandating development standards, seeking production targets and creating onerous penalties such as fines, disqualifications from grants and even judicial intervention,” Mina Layba, the city’s legislative affairs manager, told the council at its Oct. 12 meeting.

During the state’s most recent legislative session, 244 of the 2,700 bills California legislators introduced were related to land use, zoning or housing.

Layba outlined five bills that will go into effect Jan. 1 and a handful of others that will be eligible for reconsideration in 2022.

The report comes shortly after the city approved the land-use element of the general plan and is working on finalizing the housing element.

As mandated by the state’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment system, the housing element must show where a minimum of 1,663 new housing units divided into various affordability levels could be built in Thousand Oaks.

The city’s total RHNA number is 2,621 units, but it expects to receive 958 credits for anticipated accessory dwelling units, or granny flats, and residential projects already in the pipeline.

Planners have included an extra 200 units in the proposed housing element as a buffer, should the state rule out some of the included sites.

Much of the future housing stock, according to the housing element, is intended to be built on Thousand Oaks Boulevard between The Oaks mall and Westlake Boulevard. Of the nearly 100 parcels city staff has listed as possible housing sites, 44 are along the city’s namesake thoroughfare, accounting for 625 units, nearly all of them apartments or condos.

Shopping centers surrounding the Department of Motor Vehicles office on Avenida de Los Arboles account for 302 units; addresses along North Moorpark Road account for 266, and another 148 are listed on W. Hillcrest Drive.

The Oaks and Janss Marketplace account for 425 units combined.

One hundred units are designated as “neighborhood,” or single-family home sites. Of those, 24 are on Los Feliz Drive. The remaining 76 are suggested for a vacant lot behind Kohl’s in Newbury Park.

City Attorney Tracy Noonan said the city is putting itself in a good position with the state by completing the general plan update.

“What we’re doing with that general plan update and what you all did in May with the endorsed land-use map is you basically are showing to the state and showing to the community that there is room for more housing in the community and that housing can be built in a way that meets our standards, our design standards and local preferences,” Noonan said. “I’m hopeful that’s going to send a good message.”

Still, the city would be subject to the bills that Layba outlined.

Among them: Senate Bill 10, an opt-in measure that allows cities to pass an ordinance to zone any parcel in a transit-rich or job-rich area or an urban in-fill site for up to 10 units per parcel. The bill removes California Environmental Quality Act requirements, removes public input and engagement, and does not have a condition requiring affordable housing, Layba said.

Another bill, SB 9, known as the duplex bill, requires cities to approve without condition, discretion or public input the addition of an accessory dwelling unit on an individual parcel in most single family neighborhoods.

It also would require approval of urban lot “splits,” the splitting of a single-family lot into two. The resulting housing development may contain up to four units.

Assembly Bill 1398 shortens the time allowed to make zoning changes needed to comply with a housing element if one is not adopted by Feb. 11, 2022. Cities that meet the deadline have three years to rezone.

Finally, SB 215 brings a big change in RHNA goals. Currently, while the city is required to show where new housing can go, it is not on the hook for ensuring anything is actually built.

The thinking has been that a municipality can encourage development through zoning and community development policy, but it’s not in the business of building projects and thus can’t ensure development.

The new law requires mid-cycle consultation with the Department of Housing and Community Development and, if a city’s housing production is below the regional average, the city would be subject to “pro-housing” actions, penalties of up to $100,000 a month and involvement by the state attorney general, Layba said.

Bills the city will be watching and opposing as they are reconsidered next year include AB 1401, which would prohibit cities from requiring or enforcing a minimum parking standard on residential, commercial or other types of development, and AB 989, which proposes a state-appointed appeals committee for developers to seek adjudication, even when projects have been lawfully denied by a local jurisdiction.

Council members were less than impressed with the loss of local control.

“All this concern with making housing more dense and relaxing standards—it looks to me like they’re trying to undo a lot of the things we’ve done to make this a lovely community,” Councilmember Ed Jones said.

Despite not being a fan of what he called heavy-handed legislation from the state, Councilmember Al Adam said he understands the motivation behind it.

“I know where this is coming from,” he said. “If you look over the past couple of decades in a lot of cities . . . there’s always been a very strong anti-growth segment that I think has pushed council members into some decisions that I think were basically not pro-housing.”

T.O. has turned a corner, Adam said, listing some recently approved housing projects.

“The rub,” he said, “is going to be how much Sacramento is pushing back.”