Area leaders express concerns about state bill that would streamline development in coastal zone

Coastal visitors walk in Ocean Beach in 2020.
(Lauren J. Mapp / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Senate Bill 423 would make new development in coastal cities that are lagging on mandated housing goals subject to a rigidly defined set of objective standards rather than discretionary reviews.


A group of elected leaders who represent cities in San Diego County’s coastal zone sent a letter this month to state lawmakers about their concerns over a bill that would streamline development along the coast.

Senate Bill 423, authored by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, chairman of the Senate Housing Committee, would remove a 2025 sunset provision for Senate Bill 35, which created a “builder’s remedy” that streamlines housing development in cities that are behind on their state-mandated housing goals.

More notably, SB 423 would extend the streamlining to cities in the coastal zone. Those city governments would have to approve new development that adheres to a more rigidly defined set of objective standards under their certified local coastal programs, as opposed to the lengthy discretionary reviews that usually occur.

Wiener and other proponents of SB 423 have pointed to the state’s ongoing housing problems, with worsening homelessness and affordability. A recent study by the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley determined that SB 35, approved in 2017, “has made the approval process for new multifamily infill development faster and more certain and has become a default approach for many affordable-housing developers.”

But city leaders in San Diego County’s coastal zone have said they’re worried that SB 423 would undermine the environmental protections of the California Coastal Act and Coastal Commission, which have largely shielded them from housing bills aimed at adding more density.

Their letter, addressed to Wiener and 12 members of the state Assembly, was signed by San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla and Pacific Beach, and the mayors of Solana Beach, Del Mar, Encinitas, Carlsbad, Oceanside and Imperial Beach.

“SB 423 would remove many of the vital protections in the coastal zone by the Coastal Act at a time when they are needed more than ever,” the letter states. “In the face of climate change and sea-level rise, coastal development needs to be carefully reviewed, not streamlined without community and local government oversight.”

SB 423 passed on the Senate floor and passed its first two Assembly committee hearings before the state Legislature entered summer recess in July. When lawmakers returned to the Capitol in mid-August, the bill was referred to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

It’s gotten that far with help from the San Diego County legislative delegation — including Sen. Catherine Blakespear (D-Encinitas), who voted yes in the Housing Committee and on the Senate floor, and Assemblyman Chris Ward (D-San Diego), who voted yes in a Natural Resources Committee hearing.

“SB 423 continues a pilot program currently shown to be a productive tool in producing affordable housing and should apply equally in California,” Ward said in a statement. “I’m encouraged to know the author has worked closely with the Coastal Commission over the summer to find agreement on issues special to coastal concerns.”

But the bill’s local opponents worry that it would be “one of the most consequential laws to impact our precious California coast since Proposition 20 passed in 1972,” leading to the Coastal Act and Coastal Commission.

Their letter expressed concerns that SB 423 would incentivize redevelopment of the relatively small number of affordable-housing units that do exist in the North County coastal corridor. In one recent case, residents of the 198-unit Solana Highlands apartment complex in Solana Beach were evicted as construction moves forward on a new 260-unit development, with 32 units for senior citizens who meet income requirements. Many of the previous tenants had no choice but to look outside Solana Beach for new housing.

“Rather than retaining existing ... affordable housing for workers in retail and restaurant jobs, seniors, students, teachers and other lower-income earners, SB 423 will cause the displacement of these residents and replacement of their homes with high-priced housing which they cannot afford,” the letter states. “We are seeing it already, and as a result, our coastal cities are becoming wealthier and less diverse.”

Solana Beach Mayor Lesa Heebner said in an interview that Coastal Commission oversight provides crucial protection against flood risks and for lagoons, inlets and eroding bluffs.

“We definitely need to have the oversight and the input of our community members to be able to be heard when development comes forward,” Heebner said. “This is taking it away from us.”


Get Point Loma-OB Monthly in your inbox every month

News and features about Point Loma and Ocean Beach every month for free

You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Point Loma-OB Monthly.