As housing bills advance in Sacramento, critics and advocates amplify debate | New


After a string of crushing defeats in the 2020 legislative session, housing advocates are hoping for better luck next month, when state lawmakers return from their summer recess and tackle the dozens of bills on housing. housing that are now progressing in the labyrinthine process of the Capitol.

According to Palo Alto Sacramento lobbying firm Townsend Public Affairs, 39 housing bills have gone through the legislature this year, 34 of which passed the first appropriation committee in their respective chamber of the legislature. These include two invoices – Senate Bill 9 and Senate Bill 10 – who have won the lion’s share of contempt and spotlight among slow-growing groups and housing advocates, respectively. The list also includes dozens of other bills that seek to encourage housing by removing zoning barriers and adding development concessions.

SB 290, authored by Senator Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, belongs to the latter camp. It grants density bonuses to developments that serve low-income students and low-income households. Housing projects that designate units for at least “moderate income” residents and that are within half a mile of major traffic stops, for example, would be eligible for parking reductions, while student housing projects in which at least 20% for low-income students would also become eligible for a zoning incentive or concession.

Another invoice, SB 6, would pave the way for the authorization of residential developments in areas zoned for offices and retail, provided that these areas are not adjacent to industrial sites.

Written by Senator Anna Caballero, D-Salinas, SB 6 requires subdivisions to comply with “all local requirements for zoning, parking, design, public notice or hearing, local code requirements, ordinances and authorization procedures that apply in an area that allows housing at the density required by this bill.

Both SB 290 and SB 6 have already cleared the Senate and now pass through the typical procession of Assembly committees, en route to an Assembly vote. It is the same for SB 478, which is authored by Senator Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, and which prohibits cities from imposing minimum lot size requirements so large that they effectively prohibit the creation of housing. The bill received a boost earlier this month when the local assembly committee voted to move it forward.

The bills have been welcomed by pro-housing groups like California YIMBY and its various locals, including Mountain View YIMBY. A letter of support from California YIMBY for SB 478 notes that the bill does not change design standards such as height setbacks, but simply “puts significant guardrails on design standards so that homes already planned are not undermined by overly restrictive design rules “.

Others are less optimistic about the impacts of the bills. Community groups such as United Neighbors and Livable California have posted ads and held forums to voice their opposition to housing bills SB 478, SB 6 and others, with Livable California calling SB 6 a “kill the city” bill. mom and pop ”because of potential harm to small businesses.

Several cities have joined the opposition. In early June, Cupertino submitted a letter opposing SB 478, saying the bill “extends well beyond the scope of land use issues for the state”.

“What is appropriate for one community may not be appropriate for all communities, which is why land use decisions, such as minimum lot size and FAR (area to land ratios) are best decided. At the local level In some communities, the FARs suggested by this bill may be appropriate, however, they will not be appropriate in all communities, ”says the letter, which is signed by the mayor of Cupertino, Darcy Paul.

However, few housing bills remain as controversial as SB 9 and SB 10. The first, drafted by Pro Tempore Senate President Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, would allow duplexes on any single-family lot. The latter, drafted by Wiener, would give cities the power to rezone plots to allow up to 10 residential density units, notwithstanding existing zoning restrictions enacted by voters.

Palo Alto spoke out against both bills. His letter opposing SB 10 argues that the bill will do nothing for housing affordability and that “any housing that emerges ends up housing only the top earners, not those who need it most.”

“In any case, the overzoning provisions of SB 10 are powers that we as a local government already have; therefore, SB 10 has no value,” read the letter signed by Mayor Tom DuBois.

Palo Alto is not the only opponent of SB 10. At the June 30 meeting of the Assembly’s Local Government Committee, which voted to move the bill forward, Redondo Beach Mayor Bill Brand, suggested the bill would bypass the state initiative process, which allows voters to make their laws directly.

“We may not like it, being lawmakers ourselves, but this form of direct democracy has been reserved in our state’s constitution for over 100 years,” Brand said.

Other opponents of SB 10 highlighted the initiatives of voters which ensured the maintenance of open space reserves and the protection of wildlife. In a concession to those critics, Wiener reduced the parameters of the bill to explicitly exclude open spaces and green belt areas.

Wiener argued at the June 30 meeting that cities that oppose SB 10 are free to simply ignore its provisions.

“This gives cities a powerful new tool that they can or cannot use, so that if a city decides to rezone for small collective housing in a part of its city, on a city block from its city, on a parcel , all over his town, whatever they want, ”Wiener told the assembly’s local government committee shortly before the vote.

He noted that as long as the development proceeds in a “non-sprawl” manner – that is, as an infill development or close to public transit – the city can rezone in an “accelerated and streamlined manner” under the proposed bill.

“We currently have cities in California that are literally unable to adopt even a single element of housing or do any zoning work,” he said.

SB 9 also continues to polarize residents and local officials. A successor to SB 1120, which failed to narrowly advance into the frantic final hours of last year’s legislative session, SB 9 cleared a major hurdle on June 22, when the Housing and Community Development Committee of the Assembly voted to support it.

Opponents of the bill, including Palo Alto, are preparing to step up their lobbying efforts in the coming month, as lawmakers return from their summer vacation. In early June, the Santa Clara County Association of Cities became the latest group to speak out publicly against SB 9. Its letter opposing the bill said cities “lay the foundation for housing production by planning and zoning new projects in their communities based on broad public input and engagement, state housing laws and the needs of the construction industry. “

“While the Cities Association appreciates pro President Tempore Atkins’ desire to pursue a housing development proposal, unfortunately SB 9 as currently drafted will not stimulate much needed housing construction in any way. that supports local flexibility, decision-making and community contribution, ”the letter says.

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