A legislative bill to promote residential housing development in areas impacted by the Camp Fire was sent to the governor’s desk for consideration.
Local Assemblyman James Gallagher introduced the Camp Fire Housing Assistance Act to promote residential development by streamlining environmental regulations – which can often delay or stop housing development – including the cities of Orland, Willows, Yuba City, Live Oak, Biggs, Corning, Gridley and Oroville.
“In the aftermath of the Camp Fire, as we were going around and talking to local government folks, victims and all of the different nonprofits and stakeholders, one thing that became very clear is that we were going to have a very serious housing crisis,” Gallagher said.
Thousands of homes and buildings were destroyed and thousands of people were displaced due to the wildfire in November.
“We just didn’t have the housing stock to keep those people local,” he said.
After speaking with several groups, he said one of the things that would help fast track development would be a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) exemption.
CEQA requires state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of a project – such as building housing.
“Right off the gun, it’s at least an 18-month process to go through a CEQA review on housing projects,” Gallagher said. “... All of that costs money and the developer is going to have to calculate that into his overall cost and what he sells the home for.”
The bill would still protect environmentally sensitive areas – such as wetlands – and housing projects would have to meet other specified criteria as well.
Originally, Gallagher said they were focusing the bill on areas immediately surrounding Paradise, such as Chico, Oroville and Gridley.
However, the Chico City Council requested that Chico be removed from the bill.
“We found a lot of cities that wanted to be a part of it,” Gallagher said. “... All of those cities are within this geographic region and it seemed like a natural way to go and lot of people get that we are really planning this from a regional standpoint.”
Willows and Orland are both named in the bill and officials from the cities said housing is needed.
Pete Carr, Orland city manager, said the city has welcomed many Camp Fire survivors and many of them have chosen to stay in the area.
“AB 430 helps us to be able to more quickly get new housing approved,” Carr said.
He said while CEQA overall is helpful in protecting the environment, it can often add time and expense and hinder growth. The bill will help speed up the process.
“The bill is going to help speed things up and that’s big,” said Wayne Peabody, Willows city manager.
Peabody said part of the problem is that Willows had much infrastructure being built and helping to reduce some of the regulatory stuff for developers will help.
“The big need for us is to get the infrastructure and cut through the red tape,” Peabody said. “(AB 430) will help reduce some of the regulatory.”
Carr said the environment will still be protected – the projects still have to meet zoning requirements and building standards.
“Hopefully developers will use this as an opportunity to bring some more housing to Orland, where it’s needed and welcomed,” Carr said.
The bill was approved by the State Assembly with bipartisan support on Sept. 5 and was sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk for consideration.
Gallagher said Newsom has signaled his support and Gallagher anticipates that Newsom will sign it.
A decision had not yet been made at the time of publication.
“It’s looking good, we’ve really engaged on all levels,” he said. “I’m really proud of my staff and all of the different stakeholders … I think it’s really a testament to what we can do to find solutions when we work together.”
To read the bill text, visit https://bit.ly/2lxn8dH.