“Yes In God’s Backyard” bill (SB4) passed in California’s Senate

1 min read
September 12, 2023

 In a state grappling with a chronic shortage of affordable housing, lawmakers are once again navigating union conflicts to expedite housing construction, aiming to provide thousands of new homes to Californians.

What’s happening:

  • The California Legislature on Monday night greenlit Senate Bill 4 (SB 4) and Senate Bill 423 (SB 423). Both bills were penned by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and now await Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision.
  • This marks the second consecutive year lawmakers delved into labor union disputes to hasten housing construction processes.

Backdrop: In the past, the influential State Building and Construction Trades Council of California opposed measures that let developers sidestep local government approvals. The council championed requirements for “skilled and trained” workers, which some constructors argue inflates construction costs.

  • Last year, Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) joined forces with Sen. Anna Caballero (D-Merced) and the California Conference of Carpenters. This led to bills promoting housing in commercially zoned regions. These efforts spurred tensions, as the carpenters supported prevailing wage standards, contrasting with the trades’ push for union hiring.
  • This year, the carpenters’ alliance with Wicks extended support to SB 4 and SB 423, sparking friction again with the trades.

Bill Breakdown:

  • SB 4, dubbed the “Yes In God’s Backyard” bill, empowers churches, faith institutions, and nonprofit colleges to erect affordable housing on their lands, bypassing cumbersome rezoning and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Properties under this bill need to ensure maintained affordability: 55 years for rentals and 45 years for owned homes. An estimated 171,000 acres of religious institution-owned land could be used for affordable housing.

SB 423 updates existing legislation (Wiener’s 2017 Senate Bill 35) aimed at simplifying approvals for affordable projects. Initially facing opposition due to wage issues, the bill was revised, requiring “skilled and trained” workers for specific construction projects. With key union endorsements, the bill made a strong showing in both the Senate and Assembly.

Looking ahead: As Californians grapple with affordability, housing remains a focal issue. How these bills play out could set precedents for future housing policy and union collaborations.

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