San Diego’s coastal leaders express concerns about SB 423 in a letter to state lawmakers

Bicyclists pass homes and business in Encinitas in January.
Bicyclists pass homes and business in Encinitas in January.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The bill would extend a 2017 law that streamlines development in cities that are lagging on housing goals, including cities in the coastal zone


A group of elected leaders who represent cities in San Diego’s coastal zone have sent a letter Aug. 17 to state lawmakers about their concerns over a bill that would streamline development along the coast.

The bill, SB 423, was authored by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, chair of the Housing Committee. It would remove a 2025 sunset provision for SB 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 take place.

Wiener and proponents of SB 423 have pointed to the ongoing statewide housing crisis, with worsening homelessness and affordability. A recent study by the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley also found that SB 35, which was 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 local leaders within the coastal zone have said they’re worried that the SB 423 would undermine the protections of the Coastal Act and Coastal Commission, which have largely shielded them from housing bills aimed at adding more density to protect fragile bluffs and other environmental concerns.

So far, SB 423 passed on the Senate floor and passed its first two Assembly committee hearings before the Legislature entered summer recess in July. The bill was referred to the Assembly Appropriations Committee when lawmakers returned to the capital in mid August.

It’s gotten that far with help from the San Diego delegation — including Sen. Catherine Blakespear, who voted yes in the Housing Committee and the Senate floor, and Assemblymember Chris Ward, 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 its local government 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.

The letter, addressed to Wiener and 12 other members of the Assembly, was signed by the mayors of Solana Beach, Del Mar, Encinitas, Carlsbad, Oceanside and Imperial Beach, as well as San Diego City Councilmember Joe LaCava.

“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.”

The letter also expressed concerns that SB 423 would incentivize redevelopment of the relatively small amount of naturally occurring affordable housing units that do exist in the North County coastal corridor. In one recent case, residents at the Solana Highlands apartment complex in Solana Beach were evicted as construction moves forward on a new 260 development with 32 units for seniors 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 naturally affordable housing for workers in retail and restaurant jobs, seniors, students, teachers and other lower-income earners,” the letter continued, “SB 423 will cause the displacement of these residents and replacement of their homes with high-priced housing which they cannot afford. We are seeing it already, and as a result, our coastal cities are becoming wealthier and less diverse.”

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

“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.”