Renewed Fight Over Housing Density Pits Cities Against the State

If anything can be said of Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) it’s that he will not back down in the face of defeat. Earlier this year Weiner reintroduced his bill to extend alcohol sales to 4 A.M. for certain cities following Gov. Brown’s veto of a nearly identical bill last year. Now he has reinvigorated his fight to mandate higher density housing throughout the state with his introduction of Senate Bill 50.

Last year Weiner introduced SB 827 which would have mandated revised land use policies, compelling local jurisdictions to allow higher density housing developments near “transit-rich” zones. “Transit-Rich” zones were defined as areas within a half mile radius of “frequent transit corridors” such as rail or bus lines.

SB 827 failed to pass through its first committee, Transportation and Housing, along a vote that demonstrated the sharp divide that exists between Democrat represented communities, particularly in the bay area. In total seven of the thirteen members on the Transportation and Housing Committee represented parts of the bay area in 2018 (a balance of power that warrants a separate discussion), of those seven the only two who voted to move SB 827 forward were Sen. Weiner, its author, and Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Oakland). The other five bay area members, all democrats, representing almost the entirety of the Bay Area outside of San Francisco and Oakland, voted against the bill.

SB 50 does address some of the issues opponents had with SB 827. One major criticism of SB 827 was that increased development in the “transit-rich” zones had the potential to accelerate gentrification and drive out low income community members. SB 50 gives “sensitive communities” five years to work the new mandates in, though “sensitive communities” is not well defined in the current draft.SB 50 also includes the addition of “job-rich” communities along with “transit-rich” which will affect more affluent areas opponents argued were immune from the first iteration.

SB 50 has already made it further than its predecessor, passing the Sen. Housing Committee, which has been separated from the Transportation Committee, by a 9-1 vote with one member abstaining. It is worth noting that the only member who voted against SB 827 that is currently on the Housing Committee is Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Santa Rosa), who was the one abstention this session.

Though SB 50 has moved through its first committee opposition to the bill is building in the cities which would be most affected by it. San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors voted 11-0 to oppose the bill unless it be amended to address a list of eight issues. The Los Angeles City Council also voted 12-0 to oppose SB 50 citing similar concerns, which boil down to mainly control and protection.

The fight over this bill is just beginning but it is sure to swell over the coming months as amendments are pushed and coalitions are formed. However with the first punches pulled in San Francisco and Los Angeles, more cities can be expected to weigh in and attempt to retain control over development in their neighborhoods.


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