San Francisco Democrat Senator Scott Wiener has tried for several years to end single family zoning laws to allow for dense “Stack & Pack” housing to replace single family homes.
In a press statement Thursday, Wiener said:
SB 478, the Housing Opportunity Act, ensures that local zoned density and state housing laws are not undermined by hyper-restrictive lot requirements that make it practically impossible to build multifamily apartment buildings in areas zoned to allow them. Specifically, SB 478 sets minimum standards on floor area ratios (FAR) and minimum lot sizes, for land zoned for missing middle housing (from three to ten unit buildings). Excessively low FAR and excessively large minimum lot sizes are tools that numerous cities use to undermine their own zoned density — in other words, a city can zone for multi-unit housing, but extreme FAR or lot size requirements make that zoned density effectively impossible. As a result, cities are able to use these loopholes to prohibit multi-unit housing otherwise authorized by local or state zoning law.
California isn’t going to have much of a housing crisis in the near future with millions of residents moving OUT of California, and not into it.
In 2020, Wiener tried to pass a “lighter” version of SB 50, the controversial dense housing bill that failed in the Senate in January 2020. SB 902, also authored by Wiener was designed to allow for zoning approval for two, three, and four residential units per parcel, removing all single family zoning.
It would have specifically been 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.
“To tackle California’s severe housing shortage, we must all pitch in,” Wiener said last year. “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. 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.”
Rather than throwing single-family zoning out the window, cities and counties could very easily remove the building obstructions that cost developers so much up-front money, which is passed on to the buyers drastically increasing the purchase and rental prices. The average home in California costs more than $100,000 in up front costs before ground is ever broken – multiple levels of permit costs, permit insurance, fees, environmental regulations, parkland fees, construction taxes, school fees, and more depending on the city.
But Sen. Wiener has had great difficulty moving his zoning changes past colleagues. Many legislators are also former Mayors or city council members. They still listen to local constituents on the issue of zoning, particularly when residents say changing zoning laws will gentrify and destroy entire neighborhoods.
As the Globe reported last year: “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.”
The same issue reared its ugly head in Sacramento in January 2021. The Sacramento City Council voted to eliminate standard single-family zoning in Sacramento’s residential neighborhoods, adopting a radical zoning measure that the California Legislature couldn’t even pass – twice, the Globe reported.
“City officials said the proposal would help the city alleviate its housing crisis, as well as achieve equity goals,”the Sacramento Bee reported. “The Mayor and Council voted 8-0 to proceed with a draft zoning plan that would allow houses across the California city to contain up to four dwelling units.”
Most of the opposition to re-zoning comes from cities which thrive on single-family units or primarily construct and have a market for such homes, with many city leaders saying that single-family zoning should always remain an option.
The Globe reported Los Angeles community advocate Pedro Ramos warned last year that neighborhoods will be destroyed. “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.”
Regardless of the feedback by people who live in these cities which will be impacted the worst, Wiener said Thursday, “California has a massive housing shortage, and we must ensure that planned housing can actually get built,” said Senator Wiener.“Abusive square footage limits and lot size mandates can effectively negate the zoning a city has adopted. When it comes to housing, cities should not be giving with one hand and taking with another. SB 478 is simply an accountability law that ensures cities allow the housing for which they’ve zoned.”