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Senator Wiener Introduces ‘SB 50 Lite’ Housing Bill to End Single-Family Zoning in CA

On Thursday, final amendments were made to Senate Bill 902, which would effectively end almost all single-family zoning in California.

A ‘lighter’ SB 50

SB 902, written by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) was designed as a ‘lighter SB 50‘, the controversial dense housing bill that failed in the Senate in January. The bill would allow for grant by-right zoning approval for two, three, and four residential units per parcel, removing all single family zoning.

It would specifically be based around city populations. Any city or town under 10,000 people would have to have two units per parcel in residential zoned areas. Cities between 10,000 and 50,000 would have a minimum of three units per parcel, while cities above 50,000 would need at least four per parcel. Buildings that offered rent in the past seven years can not be demolished under the bill, with rent controlled buildings and places with affordable units being protected from any demolition.

Cities would also be giving greater choice in 10 units and above dense housing. Instead of having forced minimums, it would simply be easier to build high-density housing near transit areas, with cities having the final say based on ordinances being passed or being approved publicly. Environmental review could also be skipped under certain circumstances.

Supporters argue that extreme measures are needed to tackle the housing crisis

Senator Wiener and supporters such as Senator Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and housing advocates have argued that the state ne to take more extreme measures to stop the housing crisis in California and allow more units to be built to lower overall costs.

Senator Toni G. Atkins. (Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

“To tackle California’s severe housing shortage, we must all pitch in. By authorizing two, three and four units per parcel statewide, and by giving cities a powerful new tool to increase density even more, SB 902 recognizes that we’re all in this together and makes it easier for cities to do the right thing,” said Senator Wiener in a statement earlier this week. “We think this legislation will over time allow for a significant increase in the amount of housing, and will do it in a way that is a light touch. And also in a way where cities have significant latitude in how they do it.”

“Obviously I spent years trying to pass SB 50 and we were swinging for the rafters and it didn’t cross the finish line. But Senator Atkins handled this very wisely. She decided the way to do this was to convene a working group of senators who haven’t been quite vocal, senators who were on both sides of SB 50.”

Senator Atkins also noted that SB 902 was one of several bills that would fulfill her promise of more affordable housing legislation.

“I want to personally commit to each and every one of you, and to the people of California, that a housing production bill to alleviate our housing crisis will happen this year,” said Senator Atkins earlier this week.

Opposition to SB 902 quickly growing

Opposition to SB 902 has grown during the week, with many charging that it could be the end of single-family houses in California and that it would destroy entire neighborhoods. Many neighborhood associations that came out against SB 50 have already voiced opposition to SB 902.

“We have classic houses that are of historic value,” noted Charlotte Davis, who has represented historic neighborhoods in Pasadena and other Los Angeles adjacent cities. “There are entire neighborhoods of single family houses that are all owned by families. Many streets and public services are designed for lower traffic and fewer people. A lot of people want space for gardens and children and pets.”

“SB 902 destroys that. They won’t be knocking down blocks, but it puts a lot of houses at risk for duplexes and triplexes, buildings people do not want.”

“And developers aren’t bound to making everything affordable. For richer neighborhoods it generally stays the same, but for poorer areas it just creates gentrification, which is the last thing they want. That’s largely why SB 50 failed. And now they’re trying to do it again with SB 902.”

Leaders in poorer communities also largely agree.

“We’re very liberal here,” said Los Angeles community advocate Pedro Ramos. “And we pressured our Senator and Assembly member to vote against it.”

“The few new apartment complexes that have gone up here have priced out virtually everyone here. Newer expensive housing goes up in places where affordable housing was supposed to be. And SB 902 doesn’t guarantee cheaper housing, but simply more housing.”

“Especially now with so many people out of work or falling behind on bills. Why would we want even more places with expensive rents? Or buying a duplex with a loan a bank wouldn’t give us?”

Senator Wiener should actually meet poorer people and see the neighborhoods in LA he’ll be destroying. He’s just thinking about his small area of San Francisco where this kind of bill can make sense. Here, and in most other places in California, it’s terrible.”

“And look, we’re some of the bluest districts in the state. That has to tell you something about how bad it will be for us.”

SB 50 also has increasing opposition from cities which thrive on single-family units or primarily construct and have a market for such homes, with many city leaders already coming out and saying that single-family zoning should remain an option.

SB 902 the crown jewel of housing bills this session

Other housing bills are also up this semester. AB 1279, written by Assemblyman  Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), would incentivize building denser, more affordable buildings in suburban areas. SB 1385, written by Senator Anna Caballero (D-Salinas), would make it easier for housing to be built on commercially zoned land. But SB 902 is the big bill this session as the successor to SB 50, already building controversy even before its first committee vote.

While Senator Wiener and Senator Atkins remain optimistic of the bills passage, the bill will be difficult to pass because of both Republican and Democrat opposition to the bill, similar to the situation with SB 50. Many law groups, who had planned on a legal challenge in January in SB 50 had been passed, have also indicated that it would be challenged in court if it is passed.

SB 902 is currently set to be heard during the Senate Housing Committee on May 26th and 27th.

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