Examining Local Land Use Entitlements to Inform Policy & Process
While recently enacted legislation attempts to address California's housing affordability crisis, the issues persist and more legislation may be on the way. In order to support effective infill development policy, our research team is investigating the laws and regulations that might impede housing construction in high-cost areas. In the second working paper on this issue, we focused on Los Angeles, Long Beach, Santa Monica, and Pasadena.
We looked at the entitlement process (or the process that property owners move through to get a building permit) within these cities, and analyzed the law applicable to residential development projects. We also collected data on all residential development projects of five or more units over a three-year period within each city.
We found that across these four cities, only Los Angeles provides for as-of-right development for five or more units up to a 49-unit threshold. In the other three cities, residential development of five or more units must undergo discretionary review - and by extension, environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act - before obtaining a building permit. Additionally, we found that despite Los Angeles's as-of-right provision, rates of entitlement of as-of-right units were lower than expected, in part due to the overlay of state subdivision law and local specific plan initiatives that carve back the scope of as-of-right development.
We conclude that any state law that intends to impose by-right development must address nuances and include common code deviations, and that while process reforms in some places might shorten entitlement timelines, and in turn increase entitlement rates, those changes would not address critical constraints on supply in other markets. Because entitlement of affordable housing was low across all jurisdictions during these three years, we also suggest that future process reforms directly consider affordability and middle-income households.
Report authors: Moira O'Neill, Eric Biber, and Giulia Gualco-Nelson.
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