Legislative Update – the Mega Late Night Assembly Session Finale

By Sharon Byrne   |   September 3, 2020

The California legislature raced to get a slew of bills passed before the legislative session closed on August 31. Nine bills were proposed by the Senate leadership to create up to three million units of housing in California. Some of these bills directly impact Montecito, so we worked with Assembly Member Monique Limón and Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson. We have been engaged in homeless outreach in Montecito, and you may be surprised to learn some of the people we are trying to help are displaced Montecitans. There is a critical need for housing, however, that has to be balanced with the needs of the community. Some of these bills were fairly egregious in what they could impose on Montecito in terms of infill housing development.

Several bills died in committee, but SB1120 continued to a vote on the Assembly floor. On Monday at 10 am, we jumped on the livestream for the final day of floor hearings. This was the fifth day we’ve been at these hearings, including Sunday. SB1120 kept getting skipped. This bill, proposed by Senator Toni Atkins, would allow lot splits to erect two units of housing on each property, including duplexes, for a total of four units where a single-family residence stands now. Up to five million California single-family residences could be affected. When we attended the Committee on Local Government, we pushed for exclusion in high fire danger zones, which applies across much of Montecito. Senator Atkins agreed to the amendment, but we kept watching the bill, and the amended language was not included. We teamed up with Agoura Hills, Ventura, and other communities pushing back on this bill. Montecito Association members sent voluminous public comment to Limón – thank you!

Assembly sessions feature enormous agendas – the daily bill file was 117 pages on the final day of voting. At 11:49 am, the Speaker skipped SB1120 temporarily, meaning they’d come back to it, so we had to keep watching for the next 15 hours. They move really fast on some bills, so you could miss a vote while letting the dog out. This hearing ran past midnight. We mustered our stamina, for Montecito, and stayed the course, texting with Limón throughout. She’s eight months pregnant – major kudos to her for staying the course!

Bills Passed on Monday, Most Without any Debate:

SB1049: Allows up to $5,000 fine (up from $1,000) for local governments to enforce violations of their short-term-vacation-rental ordinances. This is a hot topic in Montecito right now, also heard by the Board of Supervisors and the Montecito Association’s Land Use Committee this week.

SB182: Introduced by Senator Jackson. Reduces fire hazards by implementing new standards requiring developers to design communities in fire-safe layouts, hardening of new construction, and road and water facilities to reduce fire risk. Requires updating of community general plan housing elements.

SB852: Requires state to manufacture generic prescription drugs and insulin, as COVID-19 has greatly impacted availability and pricing of these drugs.

SB1138: Introduced by Senator Scott Wiener, accelerates approval of emergency homeless shelters without conditional use permits. Requires updating of housing element to identify locations where shelters can be built.

AB69: Provides for financing for accessory dwelling units (ADU) to be built through the state Housing Finance Fund.

AB3088: Extends tenant protections from eviction due to financial hardship from COVID to January 31, 2021 if they pay 25 percent of the required rent. They must file a declaration of hardship with their landlord. This one goes straight through to the governor for immediate signature and implementation.

AB1775: Makes it a hate crime to call 911 to harass or otherwise the rights of a person based only on their race. Can lead to a $500 fine and up to one year of jail time.

And SB1120? The Assembly took it up at 11:30 pm Monday night. Here’s how the debate unfolded, and it was exciting, as the most heavily debated bill of the session:

 Assemblymember Robert Rivas made an impassioned plea to allow property owners to subdivide their land and build duplexes to create more housing via ADUs. If five percent of owners did it, it would create 600,000 new units of housing against our goal of three million.

Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi spoke against it, saying it would remove local control from communities.

Assemblymember Laura Friedman expressed serious concerns due to wildfire areas and families trying to bid against speculative developers that would want to buy homes to put up to four units on the lot. You could easily see how Montecito could be an attractive proposition.

Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, holding her baby, as she was feeding when this came to vote, spoke about the need to build 3.5 million homes in this state.

My heroine of the night, Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager, who represents Los Angeles, said SB1120 would destroy neighborhood character and would limit local controls. Density can work in many areas, but we’re being duped into thinking ‘affordable’ is paying $12 for a coffee and a donut. Her point was the state is becoming increasingly unaffordable, and what we need is non-market guaranteed housing for our essential workers, like teachers. International and national developers are likely to take advantage of this bill, rather than community members who would be better able to protect community character. That’s going to create gentrification in the very communities we truly want to help. Let’s look instead at state and school district land as inventory on which we could build, or establish mixed-use light commercial corridors.

Assemblymember Devon Mathis said he opposed the bill because of investor attractiveness and lack of water and that it would chase away families.

Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham from San Luis Obispo urged passage of the bill, hoping grandparents would move into these ADUs. Otherwise, he said, California would be unaffordable for the next generation. Let the property owners subdivide their land to create supply of housing in this state, he said.

Assemblymember Chad Mayes said it was a major piece of public policy that needed hours of debate, not the short time it was being given. He said it would change the entire fabric of California, which is why we believe in local control. Given the differences of opinion, the Assembly should not be mere backup dancers for a few leaders in this state, Mayes said.

Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian of San Fernando objected to the bill. More than 10,000 single-family homes in his area are owned by private wealth management firms. Imagine what this could do to allow them free reign to subdivide lots and build, Nazarian said.

Assemblymember Jay Obernolte from Big Bear questioned: why do land use at all if we’re just going to mandate huge change from the state? This needs way more deliberation, he said.

The vote: They moved for both a roll call vote and a vote to suspend procedure, and the latter prevailed, 37 in favor, 16 opposed.

Richard Bloom, Assemblymember from Santa Monica, voted against, while Limón abstained. Not enough votes to pass, this time.

Which meant they got another shot at it in this same night. They came back for one more vote. Monique again abstained, but it passed with 42 ayes, at 11:57 pm. It has to go back to the Senate for amendment inclusion, but since that’s who pushed for it, it will pass there. However, the Assembly clearly intended to run out the clock while feigning support to their Senate colleagues for housing. At 1:53 am, I got a text from Monique’s team: it died because the Senate adjourned before it could take up the amendments passed in the Assembly.

We advocate for our community for a reason. Some Montecitans are upset because accessory dwelling units are going up around them, and there’s nothing they can do to stop it. The law allowing ADUs took effect in January, having passed in the Assembly last year. The governor signs all non-emergency bills passed in this session by September 30 to take effect January 1, 2021.


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