Key housing bill introduced to extend SB 35 fast-tracked approval process 

A key housing bill with significant impacts in the Bay Area – and Cupertino in particular – is set to be extended under new legislation unveiled this week in San Francisco.  

Senate Bill 35 (SB 35), a 2017 law authored by State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), has led to streamlined approvals for certain housing projects across our region, including in Los Altos and in Cupertino, where the Vallco mall redevelopment became the first project in the Golden State to be approved under the law in 2018.  SB 35’s provisions are set to expire at the end of 2025.   

Ahead of that sunset date, Senator Wiener unveiled Senate Bill 423 (SB 423) at a press conference in San Francisco last Monday. If passed, SB 423 would extend SB 35’s provisions and make certain changes to how the law is applied. 

Under Senator Wiener’s 2017 law, cities and counties must provide certain projects compliant with local zoning ordinances streamlined approvals if the jurisdiction has not met its state-mandated housing goals. UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation found the state law was used to force local jurisdictions to “ministerially” approve at least 18,000 units, 75% of which offer below market rate rents according to Senator Wiener.   

The Senator stated at his press conference that SB 35’s goal was to remove the propensity for a “hyper-politicized, chaotic process “for projects that “meet all the rules” in jurisdictions failing to meet their housing targets. 

The news of SB 423’s introduction comes in the wake of reports that cities and counties across the region are getting sued by housing advocates for failing to submit compliant Housing Elements to the State’s Housing and Community Development Department (HCD). The list of defendants includes the City of Cupertino.   

HCD requires that jurisdictions demonstrate how they intend to plan for their population’s housing needs and submit these documents by certain deadlines. The localities’ housing targets, or Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA), are an integral part of this process and serve as the threshold by which SB 35’s provisions determine whether developers can invoke the streamlined approval process.   

The bill was introduced as part of the 2023-2024 legislative session; its progress can be tracked here.