Every city in California is required to present a general plan for housing development, which is to be updated each year. The general plan must take into account housing needs based on the population and expected population growth. However, what the general plan doesn’t account for is zoning laws, which currently take precedence over the general plan. This means cities can feign considerations in their general plan while implementing zoning laws that combat their own plan. Even cities that mean well may not be able to get sufficient votes to modify their zoning laws in accordance with the general plan.
That will change beginning January 1, 2024. Under AB 821, development plans that don’t meet zoning ordinances may still pass if the ordinance they fail to meet is inconsistent with the general plan. AB 821 allows for two possible outcomes in this scenario. The local agency controlling development applications has 180 days to either amend the zoning law that is inconsistent with the general plan, or simply process the development application regardless of failure to meet zoning laws. Note that this law doesn’t actually force changes in zoning ordinances. Nothing happens to zoning ordinances that aren’t challenged by a development application designed to further the general plan, and a very stubborn local agency could simply delay processing by up to 180 days, and then possibly a further 90 days in court.