Examining California Land Use Entitlements

California’s housing affordability crisis has rightly received a great deal of attention by state lawmakers, the press, academics, and ordinary Californians. Important questions raised in this discussion are: What laws or regulations might impede housing construction in high-cost areas? What solutions might help reduce those barriers with a minimum impact on other important values, such as environmental protection, public participation, and equitable treatment of low-income communities of color? More specifically, does state environmental law (the California Environmental Quality Act, CEQA), or local land-use regulations, constrain housing development?

To answer these questions, this phased research project joins legal research with qualitative research methods to examine land-use entitlement processes in selected high cost cities over a four-year period (2014-2017). This work explores the obstacles to increasing infill development—a necessary strategy to address the housing supply crisis while being sensitive to health and environmental concerns. Low-income families living in California’s high cost communities, for example, are both cost-burdened and living in crowded conditions. Low-income families that work within these coastal communities, but cannot afford housing near their work, commute 10% further than commuters elsewhere, with potentially significant implications for health and the environment.

Phase 1:    Redwood City, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Oakland, San Francisco

Phase 2:    Los Angeles, Long Beach, Santa Monica, Pasadena

Phase 3:    Sacramento, Folsom, San Diego, Inglewood, Redondo Beach, Fresno, Mountain View

The Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the California Community Foundation, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and the Long Beach Community Foundation have provided financial support for this ongoing study. This project is a collaboration between faculty and students at the Institute for Urban and Regional Development, BerkeleyLaw’s Center for Law, Energy, and the Environment and the Urban Community and Health Equity Lab at Columbia University.

Co-authors: Moira O’Neill, Giulia Gualco-Neslon, Eric Biber


Related Work:

Getting it Right: Examining the Local Land Use Entitlement Process in California to Inform Policy and Process (Feb 2018)

Developing Policy from the Ground Up: Examining Entitlement in the Bay Area to Inform California’s Housing Policy Debates (Winter 2019)

CEQA: What’s Really Behind CA’s Affordable Housing Shortage? (Oct 2, 2017)


For More Information:

Contact Eric Biber or Moira O’Neill


Berkeley Law Research Support: Paul Balmer, Jeff Clare, Jovita De Loatch, Sean Kiernan, Nina Lincoff, Avery Rux, Bonnie Stender, Nathan Theobald, Vincent Young

UC Berkeley Undergraduate Research Support: Terry Chau, Megan Grosspietsch, Grace Jang, Helen Veazey, Luke Zhang

Columbia University and Barnard College Student Research Support: Kasey Chatterji-Len, Madison Delaney, Colette Rosenberg, Kenneth Warner