Developers and city leaders are getting a leg up in the race to build shelters and apartments for LA’s growing homeless population. A new state law will now exempt many of those projects from environmental review.
Assembly Bill 1197 was signed Thursday by Gov. Gavin Newsom and took effect immediately.
“This law will help us turn blueprints into buildings more quickly for the shelter and supportive housing that unhoused people need now,” Mayor Eric Garcetti, who championed the bill, said in a statement.
The state law was written specifically for the city of Los Angeles, the only place where it applies. It covers the mayor’s “A Bridge Home” initiative to build temporary homeless shelters in each of the 15 City Council districts, as well as affordable and permanent supportive housing projects funded with Measure HHH.
Those projects no longer have to go through the often-lengthly state environmental review process known as CEQA, which requires developers to study, make public, and minimize a project’s impact on the environment, like noise, traffic, and views.
“Los Angeles should lead, if it’s serious about addressing homelessness,” said the bill’s author, Assemblymember Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles).
“If we can do this for billionaires buildings stadiums, there outta be enough consciousness for people who are homeless on the street and in desperate need of shelter,” he said, referencing exemptions from the California Environmental Quality Act that have been granted to large developments, such as the $2.6 billion NFL stadium rising in Inglewood.
AB 1197 will also make it harder for residents to block homeless shelters in their neighborhoods. Residents often cite CEQA when suing the city over projects—and homeless shelters have not proved an exception.
In January, the Venice Stakeholders Association filed a lawsuit against the city over its plan to build 154 beds for unsheltered residents living on streets and sidewalks in the Venice Beach area.
In the suit, the association alleged the shelter would violate CEQA by acting “as a magnet for homeless individuals and encampments,” resulting in increased “noise, litter, discharge of sewage,” and impacts to “public safety.”
As part of its suit, the association sought an injunction to halt construction. In May, a judge denied that injunction but decided to let the lawsuit challenging the shelter’s approval continue, saying the case made by opponents “does have some teeth.”
The West Mar Vista Residents Association opposed the bill. In a July 1 letter to the Senate Committee on Appropriations, its board called AB 1197 a “fiscally and politically irresponsible and un-democratic measure that exempts Los Angeles officials from having their projects funded with Proposition HHH funds reviewed under CEQA for voter and community input.”
AB 1197 is in effect until 2025.