Senator Wiener’s Legislation to Streamline Navigation Center Permitting Adopted as Part of State Budget

August 6, 2019

San Francisco –  Senator Scott Wiener's (D-San Francisco) legislation to streamline the approval of navigation centers was signed into law last week by Governor Gavin Newsom, as part of AB 101, a budget trailer bill. Previously part of Senate Bill 48, this policy aims to ensure that homeless individuals and families throughout California have reasonable access to shelter, including navigation centers. Californians currently have inconsistent access to navigation centers and shelter. Some counties provide significant shelter access, while others provide none or only in limited locations or during limited times of the year. Just this year, as local governments reported their numbers on homelessness, we saw a large increase throughout California: Los Angeles saw a 16% increase, Sacramento a 19% increase, San Francisco a 17% increase, Alameda County a 43% increase, and a 42% increase in San Jose.

SB 48 - as incorporated into the budget - will ensure that navigation centers are approved as long as they meet the criteria in the legislation. Currently - for example, the proposed navigation center on the Embarcadero in San Francisco - permits for these projects are tied up, stuck in litigation, and unable to move forward in a timely manner consistent with the crisis we face as a state. Under this new law, navigation centers will be streamlined, meaning no appeals, no CEQA, and no CEQA-related litigation.

“California’s housing crisis, along with our mental health and addiction challenges, are driving people into homelessness,” said Senator Wiener. “I am thankful to the Governor and legislative leadership for recognizing the urgency of our situation, and for including SB 48’s policy in the Budget. California must do more to ensure homeless people have access to shelter, as a way to stabilize people’s lives and help them transition to permanent housing. Shelter isn’t the ultimate goal - permanent housing is the goal - but shelter is a critical step in helping people get back on their feet. Access to shelter shouldn’t depend on where you live, yet in California today, it does. Too many parts of California have either no shelters or inadequate shelters. All of our residents deserve access to clean and safe shelter that will give them the opportunity to attain permanent housing or services they need. By streamlining the approval process, we will make it easier for every region of our state to provide shelter for more people.”

Throughout California we often see shelter, even high-quality shelter like navigation centers, get delayed or stopped due to neighborhood opposition, despite our state’s and our cities’ increase in homeless population. Recently in San Francisco, for example, a navigation center proposal that would provide high-quality shelter for 200 unhoused individuals faced severe opposition from the surrounding neighborhood. A coalition called “Safe Embarcadero for All,” hired legal counsel to block the navigation center. The group threatened to file an appeal under the California Environmental Quality Act. Under Senator Wiener’s policy this appeal would no longer be possible and the navigation center would be streamlined. 

This policy expands shelter access in California in a geographically equitable way by creating a streamlined approval process and requiring that high-quality shelters, often referred to as navigation centers, be approved “by right”. In order to qualify as a high-quality shelter a project must meet all applicable health and safety codes, provide privacy, and provide services that help connect individuals to permanent and/or supportive housing. 

While the total number of unhoused individuals is difficult to gather, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that in a single night there can be over half a million individuals experiencing homelessness in California. Given the size of our state’s homeless population, it is critical that the state play a role in ensuring all of our residents have access to shelter. While some cities and counties work effectively to provide shelter and permanent housing to their homeless residents, some do not have any shelter beds at all or only during certain times of the year, while others leave over 75 percent of their homeless residents unsheltered. California’s homeless population and the percentage of that population which is unsheltered remains the highest in the nation.

Full text of AB 101 found here.