The California Senate Housing Committee recently voted 9-1 in favor of Senate Bill 50 (SB 50), which will ease local zoning restrictions, reports the Mercury News. The proposal is an attempt to alleviate California’s lack of available housing, especially close to where people work.
Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, has been a big proponent of the bill, which would allow developers to build multi-family apartment buildings near public transportation hubs, as well as in areas throughout California that have a lot of jobs, regardless of local zoning rules.
The bill has caused friction between Sacramento lawmakers and local governments who want to maintain control over development and parking rules in their communities.
“This housing shortage, which is self-inflicted in many ways, has real-life consequences for people,” said Sen. Wiener. “It pushes people into poverty and homelessness. It spikes evictions and displacement. It’s a problem and we have to address it.”
But many local governments and homeowners’ associations are against state mandates that will dictate how development can happen in their communities. Pleasanton City Councilwoman Julie Testa is among those who oppose SB 50.
She argues that school systems, streets, and other public services in suburban areas will not be able to handle the growth of new residents that the bill could bring. “How much more can you absorb?” Testa asked. While building more homes near transit “is a nice concept,” she said, people will still have their cars, which will only create more gridlock.
Jason Rhine, assistant legislative director for the League of California Cities, added that the vast majority of local governments are operating under housing development plans that have already been approved by the state. He believes SB 50 would undermine the work that local governments are already doing to address the housing crisis. “It’s almost as if we’re setting up our cities up fail,” Rhine said.
A recent survey conducted by the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley found that less than 25 percent of the land within local jurisdictions across California is zoned for multifamily housing, despite the ongoing housing shortage.
There are some local governments that are in favor of SB 50. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo believe the bill will help to alleviate homelessness and the strain on working families.
“I hear too many stories of working parents who commute over two hours each way because housing costs price them out of our urban centers,” Liccardo said.
Some environmental groups are also in favor of the bill. They say it will help to reduce lengthy commutes, which add to the amount of climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. They also like giving more people easy access to public transportation.
Other groups that are championing SB 50 include the California Association of Realtors; the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California, which builds low-income housing; and California YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard), a group promoting greater housing density. In addition, many local businesses, developers, college students, retirees, and labor unions have voiced favor for the bill.
A previous version of the bill was defeated last year when Sen. Scott Wiener tried to push it through. Anti-poverty groups, including the Western Center on Law and Poverty, thought it would cause lower income renters to be displaced and that it did not do enough to protect them.
Wiener has since added stronger anti-demolition and affordable housing provisions to assuage those concerns. The latest version of the bill includes a special provision for areas with high poverty rates. These areas include many neighborhoods in Oakland, San Leandro, Hayward, Richmond, and San Jose. The bill would allow an alternative planning process for multifamily housing developments in these area between next year and 2025.
Next, the bill will move thought to the Senate Governance and Finance Committee. In addition, it must ass the Senate Appropriations Committee before going to the Senate floor.