Legal Alerts Jan 06, 2021

Housing and Environmental New Laws

Part 2: New Laws Impacting California Public Agencies for 2021

Among the new laws passed last year by California were a variety that seek to address the State’s ongoing housing shortage and environmental issues. Some of the new laws also seek to address the impacts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic downturn.
In our annual Legal Alert series, Best Best & Krieger LLP provides California public agencies with summaries of some of the most critical legislation to ensure they stay in compliance while working to serve their communities. All laws went into effect Jan. 1, unless otherwise noted. Where previous Legal Alerts on any new law or groupings of laws, links are provided to those.


Addressing the deficit of affordable housing in California is an annual task lawmakers take on. Last year, as in recent years, multiple bills were passed in an effort to alleviate the housing crisis.

Calif. Housing Laws Amended by 2020 Bills

AB 3088: California Eviction Protections - AB 3088 Tenancy: rental payment default: mortgage forbearance: state of emergency COVID-19

California Clears the Path for Rentals in Residential Common Interest Developments - AB 3182 Housing: governing documents: rental or leasing of separate interests: accessory dwelling units

AB 725 General plans: housing element: moderate-income and above moderate-income housing: suburban and metropolitan jurisdictions
Beginning in January 2022, this measure requires local governments to include medium- to high-density housing for moderate and above moderate-income households in general plan regional housing elements. The purpose of this measure is to increase housing density for higher income earners to facilitate the construction of additional housing units. Specifically, in metropolitan but not unincorporated areas, a local government must identify 25 percent of its sites for moderate income and 25 percent of its sites for above moderate income to be allocated to sites zoned for at least four units of housing, instead of single-family housing. The four units would be in addition to permissible accessory dwelling units or junior assessor dwelling units. The allocation of housing to sites according to this measure cannot be the basis for local government to deny a project that does not comply with the allocation. In addition, a local government may not impose an exaction or condition of approval in lieu thereof, under this section.
AB 2275 State armories: homeless shelters: security
This measure removes burdensome security requirements that hindered the use of state-owned armories to safely shelter the homeless. Previously, for cities and counties to obtain a license to use an armory as a shelter, they had to ensure that law enforcement would visit each night. The new law strikes that requirement, and provides that, prior to obtaining a license, cities and counties notify local law enforcement and request that officers visit the armory each night it is used as a shelter. The bill took effect immediately as an urgency statute.


SB 288 California Environmental Quality Act: exemptions: transportation-related projects
This measure adds section 21080.25 to the Public Resources Code and, until 2023, exempts certain environmentally friendly projects from CEQA’s review requirements. Projects include updated and new transit stations, safer streets for biking and walking, new bus rapid transit lines, repairs to bridges and the construction or maintenance of infrastructure for zero-emission vehicle charging. The measure requires most projects to be carried out by a public agency, which is designated as the lead agency. The project must be located in an urbanized area, and within an existing right of way. The project must not add physical infrastructure that increases new automobile capacity on existing rights of way, except as provided, and must not require demolition of affordable housing units. The lead agency must certify that the project will be completed by skilled and trained work forces, with some enumerated exceptions. The measure also extends the bicycle transportation plan exemption until 2030, and removes the requirement that a lead agency prepare a traffic and safety assessment in the plan to mitigate traffic, bicycle and pedestrian safety impacts. The measure has additional requirements for projects that exceed $1 million, including a racial equity analysis, the completion of a “business case” and compliance with certain public meeting protocols. The purpose of the new measure is to hasten the approval process for the covered projects, expedite transportation improvements and create additional jobs.
SB 974 California Environmental Quality Act: small disadvantaged community water system: state small water system: exemption
With some exceptions, this measure exempts from CEQA projects consisting of the installation, repair or reconstruction of water infrastructure that generally benefits a small disadvantaged community water system or a state small water system. The measure improves the water quality or the reliability of water supply of these water systems through water conservation, and by providing drinking water service to existing residents where water exceeds maximum contaminant levels, or the drinking water well does not supply sufficiently safe drinking water. Exempted projects must meet certain labor standards, fully mitigate all construction impacts and not affect wetlands or sensitive habitats. The lead agency must contact the State Water Resources Control Board to see if claiming the exemption would affect the water systems from receiving federal financial assistance. A lead agency that proceeds with the exemption must file a notice of exemption with the Office of Planning and Research and the county clerk. The measure repeals the exemption on Jan. 1, 2028.
SB 1044 Firefighting equipment and foam: PFAS chemicals
This measure was enacted to reduce the amount of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS chemicals) from firefighting equipment and foam, which is a source of contamination in drinking water. With some exceptions, this measure prohibits the manufacture, sale, distribution and use of class B firefighting foam PFAS chemicals by Jan. 1, 2022, and requires any person, including a manufacturer, that sells firefighter personal protective equipment to provide written notice to the purchaser if the equipment contains intentionally added PFAS chemicals. A civil penalty of up to $5,000 for a first violation and $10,000 for subsequent violations may be imposed upon an action brought by the Attorney General, a city attorney, a county counsel or a district attorney. The measure allows for the continued manufacture, sale, distribution and use, until 2024, for a facility that uses a fixed foam fire suppression system and has a 110 percent containment system, and allows until 2028 the manufacture, sale, distribution or use by a person at a terminal or oil refinery for certain uses. The prohibition does not apply if PFAS chemicals are required by federal law. 
AB 1657 State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission: Blue Ribbon Commission on Lithium Extraction in California: report
The focus of this measure is to find ways to overcome the challenges of domestic production of lithium in California. On or before March 1, 2021, this bill requires the State Energy Resources and Development Commission to establish and convene the Blue Ribbon Commission on Lithium Extraction in California, and appoint 14 members. The Blue Ribbon Commission would review, investigate and analyze lithium extraction and use in California. If feasible, the Commission would consult with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy regarding these issues. The measure requires the Blue Ribbon Commission to submit a report of its findings to the Legislature by Oct. 1, 2022.
AB 2731 California Environmental Quality Act: City of San Diego: Old Town Center redevelopment
This measure authorizes the San Diego Association of Governments, in cooperation with the U.S. Navy, to streamline the CEQA environmental review process to develop a transportation hub on the Navy’s Old Town campus site, and a direct transit connection to the San Diego International Airport. Specifically, the measure expedites administrative and judicial review procedures under CEQA by requiring courts to resolve lawsuits within 270 business days, where feasible, and permitting an environmental impact statement by the Navy in lieu of an EIR under CEQA. In exchange, the transit hub must meet certain environmental standards and labor requirements. 

Native American Cultural Preservation

AB 275 Native American cultural preservation
This measure acknowledges the policies and actions that have impacted the lives of indigenous Californians and separated Indian tribes from many of their human remains and cultural items. The new law seeks to proactively repatriate human remains and cultural items to California Indian tribes by providing a process where the Native American Heritage Commission will assist publicly funded agencies and museums in identifying California Indian tribes, and tribes may seek the assistance of the Commission in resolving disputes. The law also recognizes that tribal knowledge alone may be sufficient to meet standards of “preponderance” and “reasonable” in determining cultural affiliation and identifying cultural items. The measure expands the definition of tribe, and also allows a direct lineal descendent or California Indian tribe to request the return of human remains or cultural items. The Regents on behalf of the University of California, and state agencies with significant interaction with tribal issues, are requested to designate one or more liaisons to engage with Native American tribes and educate the agency about its relationship with tribal communities.

Coming Up: 

  • Thursday: California Public Records Act Legal Updates for 2021
  • Soon: New Labor & Employment Laws and a Federal Law Update

Disclaimer: BB&K Legal Alerts are not intended as legal advice. Additional facts, facts specific to your situation or future developments may affect subjects contained herein. Seek the advice of an attorney before acting or relying upon any information herein.

New Laws 2021 Roundup

New Laws 2021 Roundup

Best Best & Krieger LLP provides annual updates on legal developments that impact California public agencies and businesses. Find all the updates here!

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