Riverside County supervisors Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom to postpone by at least two years a new environmental regulation that is expected to significantly drive up home prices throughout the region, at a time when affordability is already an issue.
“This is a hit right in the face if we’re trying to create more housing,” Supervisor Jeff Hewitt said. “This is crazy. It goes against all logic.”
Hewitt and the other four members of the Board of Supervisors were of the same mind regarding implementation of guidelines under Senate Bill 743, a 2013 law authored by then-Sen. Darrell Steinberg. The bill’s provisions are slated to go into full effect on July 1.
Under the new SB 743 rules, whenever an environmental impact report is drawn up for a residential or commercial development, parties must evaluate and submit findings that estimate “vehicle miles traveled” — or VMT — to gauge the level of carbon emissions associated with the project once it’s completed.
In other words, if individuals are driving farther to reach a new subdivision that may lack readily accessible public transportation options, the EIR would score lower, with more negatives that have to be mitigated.
According to the county Transportation & Land Management Agency, current practices permit entities to rely on “level of service” when formulating an EIR, examining “quality of traffic flow on roadways, including vehicle speed and congestion.”
With VMT, if a project is bound to require greater travel for residents, the project will be required to include expanded levels of mitigation, and for housing, that will translate to ever-escalating prices, according to the TLMA and other opponents.
“The regulation views road congestion as a good thing, since it slows down traffic and incentivizes individuals to use alternate forms of transit,” according to a bipartisan letter submitted by the state Legislature to the governor, asking for a delay in implementation.
“Improvements like road-widening is considered a negative impact on greenhouse gas reductions because it increases commuter speeds, which the regulation assumes will encourage people to drive longer distances,” the letter states. “The new regulation requires that California go on a `road diet.”’
The board and TLMA Director Juan Perez lambasted the timing of the new regulation, given that the county is expected under a Southern California Association of Governments plan to support construction of 40,000 housing units over the next decade to ease the state’s housing shortage.
The letter by the Legislature additionally noted that because home prices would be increased to comply with the regulation, “communities of color” would be disproportionately impacted, since they can least bear increasing home prices, leaving residents with fewer dwelling opportunities.
“What we’re going to experience is a further erosion of quality of life for Inland Empire residents,” Supervisor Chuck Washington said. “They will be punished for commuting long distances to live in a place that they can afford. It’s ironic the state is pushing for more housing and at the same time making it harder to build housing.”
Perez said the new rule will inevitably “lead to more costs and litigation.”
“This is contrary to the greater goal of the state on housing and affordability,” he said. “We’re really stuck.”
San Bernardino County and the Riverside County Transportation Commission have also sent resolutions to the governor, whose office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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