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California governor signs bills to speed homeless shelters

By KATHLEEN RONAYNESeptember 27, 2019
FILE - In this May 30, 2019 file photo, tents housing homeless line a street in downtown Los Angeles. California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019, signed legislation aimed at boosting construction of supportive housing and shelters in Los Angeles, Orange County and San Jose. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
FILE - In this May 30, 2019 file photo, tents housing homeless line a street in downtown Los Angeles. California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019, signed legislation aimed at boosting construction of supportive housing and shelters in Los Angeles, Orange County and San Jose. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California is giving cities and counties more power to speed up the building of supportive housing and shelters amid a homelessness crisis.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom signed 13 laws aimed at stemming the crisis Thursday. His action comes as Republican President Donald Trump criticizes California’s handling of the issue, most recently blaming homelessness for water pollution .

California, the nation’s most populous state, has a growing number of people living in the streets in cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco. But Newsom has accused Trump of politicizing the issue and called on the federal government to provide more aid to get people into housing.

Newsom said the bills he’s signed will “give local governments even more tools to confront this crisis.”

One new law that takes effect immediately lets Los Angeles bypass parts of the California Environmental Quality Act to build supportive housing and shelters. Another lets projects that will turn hotels into housing forego certain CEQA reviews through 2025.

“Supportive housing and shelters aren’t being built quickly enough and as long as Californians are struggling to survive in our streets, we have a moral responsibility to do everything in our power to provide the shelter and assistance they need to get back on their feet,” Assemblyman Miguel Santaigo, a Los Angeles Democrat, said in a statement.

Some critics of CEQA have argued it can be weaponized to delay development of projects community residents might find unfavorable.

Another adds Orange and Alameda counties as well as San Jose to the list of places that can declare emergencies and build shelters on publicly owned land. It builds on a 2017 law that lets Berkeley, Emeryville, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, Santa Clara and San Francisco declare such crisis.

“I am optimistic that we will continue to work together to bring solutions to our homelessness crisis,” said Democratic Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, who authored the bill and represents parts of Orange County.

Los Angeles declared a shelter crisis after the 2017 law and set a goal of creating 750 to 1,500 new shelter beds, according to a bill analysis. So far it has opened 109 of those beds and has 170 under construction.

Another piece of legislation signed by Newsom exempts projects built with $2 billion in voter-approved bonds from environmental rules. The Sierra Club, an environmental group, opposed the legislation.

Other bills Newsom signed will:

—Allow for the use of vacant California armories to provide temporary shelter during hazardous weather.

—Create a legal framework for agreements with landlords allowing tenants to take in people at risk of homelessness.

—Let the California Department of Transportation lease property to local governments at a cost of $1 per month for emergency shelters.

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