CARB Study on Entitlement in California to Inform Policy and Process

Earlier this summer, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) released the 136-page Final Report: Examining Entitlement in California to Inform Policy and Process: Advancing Social Equity in Housing Development Patterns (Final Report), detailing findings and analysis from the ongoing Comprehensive Assessment of Land Use Entitlements Study (CALES), and addressing how local land use regulations impact different types of development.[1]  The Final Report’s specific findings are based on an analysis of entitlements-related data for 2014 through 2017 in 16 cities and counties.  Ultimately, the Final Report found that the stringency in local land use regulation correlates to low housing supply and high housing cost: “Our work suggests that the chief regulatory contributor to California’s housing crisis is local governments hindering dense housing via zoning and development approval processes.”

In the Final Report, the analytical steps involved selecting jurisdictions based on housing demand and supply and cost, summarizing local codes, analyzing the approvals, building the approvals dataset, and interviewing key stakeholders such as developers, planners, attorneys, consultants, and community organizations.

Among the conclusions reached in the Final Report are:

  1. Local governments generally make little land available for dense housing (defined as development of five or more residential units).
  2. The local approval process drives the timeframe for project processing, but the number of approval steps does not necessarily increase local timeframes.
  3. Generally speaking, there is no significant difference between the entitlement timeframes and environmental review pathways in urban and exurban areas.
  4. Development projects that involve demolition of existing housing do not always produce more housing units and more affordable housing units, and run the risk of physical and economic displacement.
  5. For environmental review under CEQA, local jurisdictions often make use of tiering, and environmental impact reports are not common.
  6. Litigation is infrequent (“[l]ess than 3% of approved projects were litigated (about 6.9% of all approved units)”) and occurs more often with urban infill and high opportunity residential projects; when project approval is challenged in the court system, litigation adds up to six years to the project processing.[2]

Additionally, the key takeaways and recommendations of the Final Report include:

  1. Local jurisdictions need to scrutinize their laws and demolition data in order to guide meaningful changes in project processing.
  2. Multi-family unit projects are not the only step to increase housing production.
  3. Local jurisdictions have the data on approvals available to create better policies on climate change and housing production.

The summary above provides a high-level review of the Final Report, which contains a tremendous amount of detail and analysis.  The Final Report is available at:

[1]           The Final Report was jointly prepared for CARB and the California Environmental Protection Agency by the University of California, Berkeley and University of California, Irvine.

[2]           The Final Report’s conclusion of the insignificant impact of litigation on housing supply and cost stands in seemingly stark contrast with the findings of the Center for Jobs & the Economy’s August 2022 report titled Anti-Housing CEQA Lawsuits Filed in 2020 Challenge Nearly 50% of California’s Annual Housing Production (Anti-Housing Report).  The Anti-Housing Report concludes that the explosion in CEQA lawsuits targeting new housing production (47,999 housing units were targeted by CEQA litigation in 2020), coupled with CEQA-related GHG and VMT prescriptions promulgated at the state level, contribute to housing being too scarce and too expensive.  The Anti-Housing Report is available at:

[This alert does not constitute legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is created by viewing or responding to this alert.  Legal counsel should be sought for answers to specific legal questions.]