AB 430 rhetoric full of hot air

Assembly Bill 430, the Camp Fire Housing Assistance Act of 2019, continues to roll toward adoption as state law. It’s not just its lead author and champion, North State Assemblyman James Gallagher, saying so—Gov. Gavin Newsom told the media during a recent visit to Paradise that “it’s flying through the Legislature.” AB 430 got the green light in the Senate on Tuesday (Sept. 3). Next up is a language cleanup vote in the Assembly before heading to Newsom’s desk.

That it’s faced no significant barriers in Sacramento has provided irresistible fodder for a segment of the community vigorously opposed to progressives on the Chico City Council.

The council voted in May, along ideological lines, to request Chico’s removal from AB 430; Gallagher complied (see “Development divide,” Newslines, June 6). Since then, the most vocal of local AB 430 proponents take every advance in the legislative process as a golden opportunity to condemn the council majority.

Here’s the thing: AB 430 may make sense for other cities, but not necessarily for Chico.

The goal of AB 430 is to streamline approvals—including limits on the scope of environmental challenges—to create housing for Camp Fire survivors. Chico already has housing projects underway and set to start, under current regulations. Within the city, much of the land available for housing is considered “infill” (i.e., amid existing development); infill already is exempt from further environmental review.

Bill language specifies that projects larger than 50 acres do not qualify for streamlining exemptions under AB 430. Such a development came to the public last Thursday (Aug. 29): the nearly 1,450-acre Valley’s Edge Specific Plan, next to Stonegate in southeast Chico’s foothills.

However, a developer in such a scenario could use AB 430 to plan and build in 50-acre increments.

To be clear, Gallagher’s bill doesn’t steamroll environmental concerns—notably, it excludes environmentally sensitive parcels. It got bipartisan support in environmental committees in both houses.

Enthusiasm elsewhere for AB 430 shouldn’t repudiate Chico or city leadership. Whether the bill succeeds—yielding quick, affordable housing in Biggs, Corning, Gridley, Live Oak, Orland, Oroville, Willows and Yuba City—Chico’s participation is now a moot point.