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Santa Maria housing summit looks at why development costs are so high in CA

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Posted at 10:41 PM, Mar 23, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-24 03:05:44-04

Housing prices remain sky-high in California as more people move out of state.

Industry experts gathered at the 2023 Santa Maria Valley Housing Summit on Thursday.

They say it takes too long to get development projects moving in California, adding that environmental regulations are partly to blame.

Developers, attorneys, and construction industry experts all took part in Thursday’s summit at the Santa Maria Country Club. The goal of the roundtable discussion was to talk about how to make California a more affordable place to live.

“Median home costs now are approaching $900,000. That’s why we’ve lost population the last three years in a row,” said Eric Christen, Executive Director of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction.

He says that lawsuits filed under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) are delaying housing projects and making the process more expensive.

“CEQA abuse is being used by labor unions to hold up projects until the owners agree to build them union only, which not only adds 40 percent to the cost of a particular home, for instance, but it delays the project from being built at all,” explained Christen.

The California Environmental Quality Act requires agencies to consider the environmental impact of development.

Experts at the housing summit say that isn’t a bad thing but add that the process should be streamlined to speed things up and drive development costs down.

“I think it just needs to be a quicker process for developers to comply with all sorts of state and local regulations,” said Chris Guillen, Attorney for Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck based in Santa Barbara. “For some of our projects, it can take years to develop. In other jurisdictions, I imagine it’s much, much shorter.”

Christen says that the development process can be dragged out for even small-scale development such as an RV park being built by a friend in Northern California’s Nevada County.

“He is building an RV park across from the Nevada County Fairgrounds. He is four years into it, $3 million in fees. They haven’t broken ground yet, not even close.”

Experts say that delays are also impacting affordable housing and green energy projects.