Senate bill to overide local zoning rules to allow higher density housing passes committee

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Legislation compelling California cities to allow more construction of higher-density housing near transit hubs and job centers has passed the Senate Housing Committee.

Senate Bill 50 would override local zoning rules and give developers the green light to build four- or five-story apartment buildings near bus, rail and ferry stops in an attempt to spur housing construction, KQED reports.

The bill’s higher-density rules would also apply in “jobs-rich” areas, a designation yet to be fully defined in the legislation.

“We have to move past the paralysis on housing and change how we do things,” said the bill’s author, state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco.

SB 50 would also ease local rules requiring developers to provide parking for each unit, reducing another construction cost barrier.

The bill gained an endorsement from the State Building & Construction Trades Council of California. Many environmental and equity groups that helped sink the legislation last year did not speak out against it this year.

Wiener described his legislation, a response to California’s severe housing shortage, as “changing the way we’ve done zoning in California for 170 years.”

However, last year that challenge to historical precedent rallied a broad group of opponents, led by homeowners and city council members opposed to giving up local control, as well as low-income residents who argued that building up would spike land values and lead to gentrification. The opposition was enough that the proposed law failed to clear even the first committee hurdle.

The change this year is that the bill requires that affordable housing be included in larger developments. As well, it exempts areas at risk of gentrification (like East San Jose, East Oakland and San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood) from the bill’s requirements for five years, and allows those communities to design their own plans to boost density.

Groups representing low-income residents did not oppose the current bill, instead taking no position and signing letters to the committee “expressing concern.”

Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, D-Los Angeles, said that “gentrification is very, very high on the list of concerns” in her district. “Let’s change this proposed legislation enough so that other concerns are brought in.”

Other opponents, unhappy with greater state involvement in local zoning rules, remain opposed to the proposed legislation.

“This is about destroying suburban, one-home-per-lot single-family residential neighborhoods,” said Sacramento real estate broker Karen Klinger.

“It’s almost as if we’re setting our cities up to fail,” said Jason Rhine, a legislative director with the League of California Cities. “You tell us to plan, you approve our plan, and now the rules are going to be changed without additional input.”

SB 50 now heads to the Senate Governance and Finance Committee, chaired by Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, who has traditionally been a supporter of local housing decision control.

McGuire introduced his own bill to boost density around transit — SB 4 — which the housing committee also approved, KQED reported. The bill’s application would be more limited than that of SB 50, applying only to areas around train and ferry stops in cities where the pace of home construction has fallen markedly behind the growth of new jobs.

McGuire said he hoped to finish negotiations with Wiener over their two bills before April 24, when the governance and finance committee takes up the issue.

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