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New California Law Aims To Make Building Housing Much Easier

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- It's no secret the Bay Area needs to build more housing, but getting those projects off the ground can be an uphill battle.

Now, there's a new law, that's about to make it a lot easier.

Cities and counties that have not been building enough housing now have a streamlined process for approving development.

So which ones flunked their housing goals? Almost all of them: 92 percent.

On Thursday, California released a list of the 526 cities and counties where neighborhoods won't have as much power over projects.

"We're experiencing a shortage,"  said Dennis Richards, who sits on the San Francisco Planning Commission.

Last year, the commission voted to allow a 100 percent affordable housing project at Folsom and Seventeenth streets, but at the last minute...

Richards said, "One of the residents I believe, on Folsom Street, filed the infamous DR. Discretionary review - which stopped everything and we had to hold a hearing at the Planning Department based on the filer's concerns."

The commission allowed the project to move ahead, but the opposition meant it was delayed by several months. And for affordable housing, a delay can be deadly. The funding is usually cobbled together from government and non-profits. That money often has to be used by certain deadlines.

Richards said, "If something were to slow the project down and one of those deadlines would not be met, maybe portions of the funding would not be available and then a project won't happen."

But if the Folsom Street project was being considered today, that neighbor would not be allowed to object. That's because of a new law called SB 35, written by State Senator Scott Wiener.

"My bill, SB 35, which will streamline the housing approval process in communities that are not meeting their housing goals..." Wiener said.

Generally, under the law, in places where there's not enough housing, a project that complies with zoning requirements has to be approved.

Case in point: there's a new plan to tear down the McDonald's at Haight and Stanyan streets in San Francisco and build a 100 percent affordable housing project.

Already some neighbors have expressed concern about how the development will affect the character of the neighborhood.

Richards said, "There's a new way to do these things. So when we saw some of the concerns from the community, my response immediately was: you can't use these reasons anymore. You have to actually come up with why it doesn't work objectively, not subjectively."

We asked Richards: What about the argument that neighborhoods should have more control?

Richards said, "You set the zoning. You've got the local control in the beginning. So you're only adhering to your own rules."

The League of California Cities opposed the legislation, saying the reason there's not enough affordable housing is because of lack of funding.

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