California Legislature Approves Expedited Construction of Affordable Housing on Church Properties

California Legislature Takes Action on Several Key Bills for Affordable Housing, Education, and More

Lawmakers in California are diligently working to address a wide range of issues as they debate nearly 1,000 bills during the final two weeks of the Legislative session. Among the notable actions taken by the California Legislature on Thursday are bills regarding affordable housing, education, and the creation of gender-neutral bathrooms in schools.

In response to the ongoing homeless crisis in California, lawmakers have voted in favor of a bill that would allow religious institutions and nonprofit colleges to convert their parking lots and other properties into low-income housing. This legislation aims to combat the state’s severe homelessness problem, which currently affects approximately 171,000 individuals, or about 30% of the nation’s total homeless population. The bill would streamline the process for rezoning land owned by churches, mosques, synagogues, and nonprofit colleges, bypassing local permitting and environmental review rules that are often time-consuming and costly.

One of the key obstacles faced by churches and colleges when attempting to convert their land into housing is that it is not zoned for residential use. To address this issue, Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener has authored a bill that would ease zoning restrictions and facilitate the construction of much-needed affordable housing. The legislation has already been approved by the Assembly and now requires final approval in the state Senate before it can be signed into law by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom. If enacted, the bill would only apply to affordable housing projects and would sunset in 2036.

Proponents of this bill argue that it could significantly increase California’s affordable housing stock, potentially adding hundreds of thousands of housing units. A study conducted by the University of California, Berkeley estimated that religious and higher education campuses in the state possess over 170,000 acres of land that would be eligible for development under this legislation. However, some cities and environmental groups have expressed concerns about the bill, suggesting that it could limit local control over housing developments and place low-income housing in proximity to polluting areas.

In the realm of education, the California Legislature has also taken action to ensure that school curricula reflect the cultural and racial diversity of the state and the nation. A bill has been passed that would require school boards to approve instructional materials that accurately depict LGBTQ+ individuals and their contributions. The bill aims to prevent school boards from rejecting textbooks based on the inclusion of information about specific racial backgrounds or sexual orientations. This issue gained attention in California when a school board rejected a social studies curriculum that mentioned Harvey Milk, a prominent gay rights advocate, leading to a subsequent threat of fine by Gov. Newsom and a subsequent reversal by the board.

During debates on this bill in the State Senate, there was intense discussion surrounding the topic. Democratic Sen. Susan Talamantes Eggman, chair of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, accused Republican Sen. Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh of making off-topic comments, leading to a temporary suspension of the proceedings. Despite opposition from Republican lawmakers, the bill ultimately passed in the Assembly and is now awaiting approval from Gov. Newsom.

Additionally, the Legislature has addressed an important housing law by passing a bill that extends its life. The law, passed in 2018, streamlines regulations for housing projects in cities that have not met state-mandated goals for affordable housing. Since its implementation, this law has facilitated the construction of 18,000 homes, with roughly 75% of them being affordable housing. The new bill removes the requirement for hiring “skilled and trained workers,” a provision that unions typically seek, and instead mandates that workers be paid the prevailing wage of the local area.

Opposition to the bill arose from the state Coastal Commission and environmental groups concerned about the exemption on streamlined housing development in coastal zones. These opponents worried that the bill would lead to the construction of luxury apartments rather than affordable housing in areas prone to sea-level rise or wildfires. However, Democratic Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, a co-author of the bill, clarified that it only applies to coastal areas zoned for multifamily housing. With the Coastal Commission no longer opposing the bill, it has passed in the Assembly and awaits Gov. Newsom’s approval.

Lastly, the Legislature approved a bill that mandates the inclusion of at least one gender-neutral bathroom in schools serving first through twelfth-grade students by 2026. This legislation reflects the ongoing discussions surrounding the rights of transgender and nonbinary students and whether parents should be notified when their child changes pronouns at school.

As the Legislature continues its work, lawmakers have until September 14 to act on various bills. Once they reach their decisions, Gov. Newsom will have approximately one month to determine whether to sign the bills into law. These legislative actions highlight the multifaceted challenges facing California and demonstrate the ongoing efforts to address critical issues in the state.

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