Senator Wiener Introduces Zoning Reform Bill to Allow More Housing Near Public Transportation and Job Centers

Senate Bill 50 — modeled on SB 827 of the last legislative session — legalizes more housing near job centers and public transportation by overriding hyper-restrictive low-density zoning, while protecting against displacement of renters and vulnerable communities

The type of multi-family housing SB 50 would authorize

Today, Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) announced the introduction of Senate Bill 50: the More HOMES Act (Housing, Opportunity, Mobility, Equity, and Stability). SB 50 creates new zoning standards for the construction of housing near job centers and public transportation, while protecting against the displacement of renters and vulnerable communities living in those areas. SB 50 eliminates hyper-low-density zoning near transit and job centers, thus legalizing apartment buildings in these locations so that more people can live near transit and near where they work. It also reduces or eliminates minimum parking requirements for new developments.

SB 50 will help relieve California’s acute housing shortage (currently a deficit of 3.5 million homes), make housing more affordable, increase the supply of low-income housing, and reduce pressure to create more sprawl and build in wildfire zones. The bill will also reduce carbon emissions by allowing more people to live near transit and near where they work.

SB 50 is modeled on SB 827, which Senator Wiener introduced earlier this year and which did not advance. Since SB 827’s demise, Senator Wiener has worked with a broad coalition of stakeholders to recraft the bill, in order to protect vulnerable communities.

“We must take bold steps now to address our severe housing crisis and reduce our carbon footprint,” said Senator Wiener. “California’s housing shortage hurts our most vulnerable communities, working families, young people, our environment, and our economy. It also increases homelessness. For too long we have created sprawl by artificially limiting the number of homes that are built near transit and job centers. As a result of this restrictive zoning in urbanized areas, people are forced into crushing commutes, which undermines our climate goals, and more and more Californians are living in wildfire zones. As educational and economic opportunities become increasingly concentrated in and near urban areas, we must ensure all of our residents are able to access these opportunities. I am excited to work with a diverse coalition to spur the development of more housing for all income levels while protecting vulnerable communities and ensuring we do more to address climate change.”

SB 50 is supported by San Francisco Mayor London Breed, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, Emeryville Mayor John Bauters, and El Cerrito Mayor Gabriel Quinto, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has made positive statements regarding the direction of the bill. SB 50 is also supported by the State Building and Construction Trades Council (which opposed SB 827) and the California Apartment Association and is sponsored by California YIMBY (please see bottom of release for statements from mayors and organizations).

In addition to Senator Wiener, SB 50 is co-authored by a diverse and bi-partisan array of legislators, including: Senators Anna Caballero (D- Salinas), Ben Hueso (D- San Diego), John Moorlach (R- Costa Mesa), and Nancy Skinner (D- Berkeley), and Assemblymembers Autumn Burke (D- Inglewood), Ash Kalra (D- San Jose), Kevin Kiley (R- Rocklin), Evan Low (D- Campbell), Robert Rivas (D- Hollister), Phil Ting (D- San Francisco), and Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland).

California is experiencing an unprecedented housing shortage and affordability crisis. According to the California Housing and Community Development Department, the lack of new housing construction in California has compounded over the last several decades into a shortage of 3.5 million homes. This shortage harms California’s workers and families. They feel the results of this shortage in the form of exorbitant rents and the highest home purchase prices in the nation. Excessive competition for limited housing supply is also driving a statewide epidemic of displacement, evictions, and homelessness.

California’s failure to allow for enough housing near job centers and public transportation is undermining the state’s climate goals and increasing wildfire risk. By not increasing density around public transportation and near jobs, local governments push residents into longer commutes, leading to greater air pollution. A November report from the California Air Resources Board explains that “while positive gains have been made to improve the alignment of transportation, land use, and housing policies with state goals, the data suggest that more and accelerated action is critical for public health, equity, economic, and climate success.” Additionally, a recent federal report indicates that governments are not doing nearly enough to mitigate the effects of climate change and especially greenhouse gas emissions. As we look at the biggest contributors of greenhouses gases in California, private vehicles remain at the top. Already we are seeing the economic, environmental, and human health impacts that climate change is inflicting on California. The recent wildfires have claimed thousands of homes, displaced thousands of families, and reduced air quality throughout the state.

Current state law leaves most zoning and land use decisions to local governments, and includes no density standards around public transportation and job centers. Due to a lack of adequate and enforceable statewide standards, most California cities are still operating under outdated and highly restrictive zoning ordinances — frequently banning apartment buildings entirely — that make it difficult or impossible to build multi-family dwellings.

The More HOMES Act eliminates density restrictions for housing near high quality transit and in job-rich areas, in order to ensure that the benefits of public investments in transit are accessible to Californians of all incomes and to enable people to live near where they work. It applies these standards to sites within ½ mile of fixed rail and ¼ mile of high-frequency bus stops and in job-rich areas. Within these geographies, a city may not limit density (e.g., banning apartment buildings). Within ½ mile of fixed rail, a city may not impose maximum height limits lower than either 55 feet or 45 feet. (Bus stops and job-rich areas will not trigger height increases; rather local height limits will apply.)

SB 50 defers to local design standards, inclusionary housing requirements, setback rules, demolition standards (unless they are too weak), and height limits (except near fixed rail stops).

SB 50 also includes strong protections for renters and low-income communities and creates better access to jobs:

· Tenant Protections: Establishes strict tenant protections to ensure long-time residents will not be displaced from their communities, including a prohibition on demolishing buildings currently or recently (within 7 years) occupied by renters or where Ellis Act evictions have occurred in the past 15 years.

· Affordable Housing: Establishes affordability standards to ensure that projects are mixed income.

· Sensitive Communities: Allows for delayed implementation in sensitive communities at risk of gentrification and displacement, in order to allow for local planning to reduce displacement.

· Job-Rich Communities: Proposes a new “job-rich housing project” incentive to ensure that communities with easy access to jobs and in neighborhoods with high-performing public schools allow a broader range of housing choices for people of all income levels, even in the absence of high-quality transit.

The More HOMES Act was officially introduced on December 3 when the Legislature reconvened for the 2019–2020 legislative session. It will be set for a committee hearing in the coming months.

Quotes:

San Francisco Mayor London Breed:

“San Francisco, along with the entire Bay Area, needs to create more housing if we are going to address the out of control housing costs that are causing displacement and hurting the diversity of our communities. I have seen too many people I grew up with pushed out of San Francisco because we have not built enough housing, especially affordable housing, throughout our entire City. I look forward to working with Senator Wiener and others to make sure SB 50 creates more housing opportunities near transit, while maintaining strong renter protections and demolition restrictions so we are focusing development on empty lots and underutilized commercial spaces. I want to thank Senator Wiener for his continued leadership in pushing for more housing throughout California.”

Oakland Mayor Libby Shaaf:

“The Bay Area must address our shared housing crisis with bold solutions and this bill is an important step toward inclusive communities where everyone has access to stable housing. I appreciate that Sen. Weiner has included key elements of the CASA process — an 18-month effort by Bay Area government officials and stakeholders to create new regional housing strategies — and I am committed to working with the state legislature to implement these solutions.”

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg:

“I strongly support the concepts outlined in SB 50 because cities throughout California are in the midst of a housing affordability crisis and we need tools that allow us to meet our housing demands. Recent state reports demonstrate cities are falling well short of the housing, climate and sustainable transit goals California committed to in SB 375, legislation I authored in 2008. Senator Weiner’s legislation provides a vital tool for local governments to meet those goals.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti:

Our state is coping with a housing crisis that threatens the California dream — and I applaud Senator Wiener for his bold efforts to help us get housing built while protecting people from being priced out of communities where they have invested so much of their lives. This bill is a good first step, and I will continue working with him to make certain that these statewide solutions are the right fit for Angelenos.”

Emeryville Mayor John Bauters:

“Every city in California has to do its part to solve the housing crisis, and I’m proud to stand with fellow housing champions in support of the More HOMES Act. In addition to the incredible burden on our workers, the housing crisis is now fueling the climate crisis by forcing people into long commutes. We should build much more housing near transit, and I’m excited to support this effort to do so.”

Cesar Diaz, Legislative and Political Director, State Building and Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO

“The State Building Trades Council applauds Senator Wiener’s continued efforts to make housing more available and affordable for California’s working class. We believe that working together will significantly advance transit-oriented development policies that provide residents, especially working families, access to affordable housing, services, and reliable and clean modes of transportation. We look forward to working with Senator Wiener to promote policies that will build more affordable housing while protecting workers and communities.”

Brian Hanlon, President, California YIMBY

“California YIMBY is proud to sponsor this effort by some of the Legislature’s strongest housing champions to help us solve the housing crisis. The More HOMES Act gives cities new tools to address the housing shortage, and help us make sure that all Californians have access to jobs, educational opportunities, and secure, affordable housing.”

Michael Lane, Policy Director, Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California (NPH)

“We were able to get to a support position on Senator Wiener’s transit-oriented up-zoning bill in the last legislative session and his new local zoning reform bill is even better. Senator Wiener has made respectful, good-faith efforts to engage tenant and equity advocates across the state and address their valid concerns with up-zoning. We are pleased to note that his new bill has even stronger safeguards for existing tenants and sensitive communities experiencing displacement pressures while creating greater access to high opportunity neighborhoods for lower income families. This legislation will greatly expand the number of viable sites for the development of much-needed affordable multifamily housing and we look forward to working with Senator Wiener in the new legislative session to perfect it and move it through the legislative process.”

Debra Carlton, Senior Vice Presidents of Public Affairs, California Apartment Association

“The California Apartment Association is proud to support Senator Wiener’s More HOMES Act. Ensuring that areas with quality public transit do not ban apartments is vital to addressing California’s affordable housing crisis. This bill will help bring greater economic and racial diversity to neighborhoods by allowing new multifamily housing throughout California’s urban centers.”