Downtown Santa Monica (File photo)

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a new state budget that guarantees developers the ability to build housing projects if they meet preexisting zoning standards.

The budget contains a provision known as “by right” construction and is tied to new spending to incentive affordable housing. The new rules will allow developers to bypass discretionary approvals (like a public vote or a vote by the City Council) if a project meets conditions defined by a municipality’s Zoning Code.

According to a press release sent by the Governor’s office, the budget reflects $3.6 billion in state and federal funding and award authority for many affordable housing and homelessness programs, including increased funding for CalWORKs rapid rehousing and emergency homeless shelters.

Of that, $400 million will be set aside from the General Fund for allocation to affordable housing programs.

“The funding will be coupled with the Administration’s proposed legislation requiring ministerial ‘by right’ land use entitlements for multifamily infill housing developments that include affordable housing,” said the release. “This would help constrain development costs, improve the pace of housing production and encourage an increase in housing supply.”

The by-right rules apply to projects that are consistent with objective general plan and zoning standards, include multi-family housing, are surrounded by urban uses and not built on restricted property types such as farmland or hazardous waste sites.

The rules have an affordable housing element that requires between 5 and 20 percent of the units to be affordable housing depending on the level of affordability and the project’s proximity to an existing or planned transit stop.

If a project is within the established guidelines, it must be approved following a 30-day review. That review is limited in scope and will only verify the project meets the rules established by the Zoning Ordinance.

Projects that exceed zoning standards would still be subject to local review processes.

In Santa Monica, a project that meets all of the state criteria could be removed from discretionary review if it is between 35 and 50 feet in most parts of town or in rare cases, up to 84 feet if located downtown.

The streamlined process could override one provision of the Land Use Voter Empowerment initiative scheduled to go before voters in November.

LUVE would require voter approval for projects over 32 feet, all development agreements and any significant revisions to zoning rules, but the state rules would override voter approval of projects over 32 feet.

State regulators said its likely specific interactions between the new state rules and local ordinances will require court intervention. An initial ruling on any specific question would be provided by the State but either side could appeal that ruling.

LUVE author Armen Melkonians said LUVE applies to all construction and the by-right proposal is limited to housing projects. In addition, the specific wording of the by-right rules could allow LUVE’s height cap to remain in place depending on the final language.

He said it is impossible to know how state rules will actually impact local provisions until the questions have been analyzed and litigated.

In the mean time, he said the LUVE campaign will focus on passing the initiative as written with an understanding that the state rules could be revised and at the end of the day, local ordinances will have to comply with the state mandates.

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