California’s rural communities have vast responsibilities with respect to local land use planning, development, conservation, and general decision-making authority.  While the State delegates most local land use and development decisions to cities and counties, state and local laws define the process for making planning decisions and requires various planning elements to be prepared and included in a county-adopted General Plan.  The General Plan is a comprehensive plan that outlines the county’s goals and policies for accommodating future population growth and other physical demands.  As part of the General Plan, the State mandates the incorporation of at least the following seven elements: land use, open space, conservation, housing, circulation, noise, and safety.

The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) is the State’s planning agency responsible for a variety of programs including the development and adoption of guidelines for various land use planning documents, such as the General Plan.  The Department of Housing and Community Development, Division of Housing Policy Development, administers state housing element law, including the review of local housing elements.  Housing element law mandates that local governments adequately plan to meet the existing and projected housing needs of all economic segments of the community.

California real estate prices continue to rise, outpacing increases in household income levels nearly three-fold.  In fact, a recent report by McKinsey Global Institute found that California’s real estate prices increased by more than 15 percent since 2009 and median income by only 5 percent.  McKinsey reports that more than 50 percent of California households cannot afford the cost of housing, and have identified a $50 to $60 billion annual housing affordability gap, primarily impacting the Los Angeles and Bay Area communities.  As this issue continues to deepen, housing ownership for California’s low-income and very-low-income households has become nearly unobtainable, and the Legislature is poised to continue efforts to address this issue.

The Legislature considered various proposals over the last year to address the issue of housing affordability, many of which sought to reform the local regulatory environment involving the permitting process, planning requirements, zoning regulations, and land use approvals.  These efforts are anticipated to continue throughout the 2016 – 2017 legislative session.

RCRC provides input on legislation, regulations, and guidelines to protect local land use authority, reduce duplicative layers in the planning process, and minimize the financial impacts of new requirements imposed on local jurisdictions.

Staff: Tracy Rhine and Mary Pitto