Major BART Housing Bill Passes

On September 30, Governor Brown signed AB 2923, which could pave the way for BART to develop up to approximately 20,000 residential units, plus about 4.5 million square feet of office and commercial uses, on about 250 acres of BART-owned land. It requires cities and counties to adopt local zoning standards for BART-owned land that conform to BART Transit Oriented Development (TOD) zoning standards and establishes a streamlined approval process for qualifying projects. The law sunsets on January 1, 2029.

The new law seeks to ease traffic congestion and increase housing production and affordability by making it easier to develop housing on certain BART-owned land. An eligible TOD project (defined below) qualifies for streamlined ministerial approval (no additional CEQA review) if it meets certain standards related to height, floor area ratio, etc. There are exclusions for projects that have specified adverse, unmitigated environmental impacts.

An “eligible TOD project” is a project at an infill site on BART-owned land with at least 50 percent of the floor area of the project dedicated to residential uses, unless a local specific plan provides for a different amount of residential uses on the site. The site must form a contiguous area of at least 0.25 acres, with at least 75 percent of its area located within one-half mile of an existing or planned BART station entrance. It must also be within an area represented on the BART Board, which excludes areas south of San Francisco. Eligible TOD projects must also meet requirements regarding housing replacement, tenant displacement and relocation, affordable housing, and labor standards.

The law requires the BART Board of Directors to adopt new TOD standards for height, density, parking, and floor area ratio for eligible TOD projects on BART-owned land (TOD Standards) by July 1, 2020. Adoption of the TOD Standards is subject to CEQA review, with BART serving as the lead agency. The minimum TOD Standards are generally set as the 2017 BART TOD Guidelines (TOD Guidelines)—these also apply if BART has not adopted TOD Standards by July 1, 2020. The lowest permitted height is set at the higher of 150% of the height permitted in the TOD Guidelines or the approved height in nearby areas, as defined in the bill. There are also parking requirements for auto-dependent stations and limits on local parking requirements.

Affected local jurisdictions must adopt an ordinance that conforms to the TOD Standards within two years after BART’s adoption of the TOD Standards, or by July 1, 2022 if BART has not adopted TOD Standards for a station. The BART Board is required to review local zoning standards and confirm consistency with the TOD Standards. Certain local provisions are exempt from the TOD Standards if they are already in substantial compliance with the TOD Guidelines. Nothing in the new law affects the application of density bonuses.

AB 2923 was endorsed by the City and County of San Francisco, housing and other non-profit advocacy groups such as the Bay Area Council, SPUR, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, SFHAC, YIMBY Action, and various building trades and business advocacy groups. The opposition included Alameda County, various East/North Bay cities, three members of the BART Board, the League of California Cities, and the American Planning Association, California Chapter.