Unable to accept the killing of his controversial housing/zoning bill SB 50, Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) has found the backdoor answer to reviving it: Wiener has replaced the language in two other bills with most of his SB 50 via the gut and amend process.
Sen. Wiener, who sees all policy through the lenses of the city of San Francisco, is attempting to foist dense San Francisco housing on the entire state, however, even San Francisco supervisors opposed his housing bill.
SB 50 would have required local governments to provide a specified “equitable communities incentive” to developers that construct residential developments in “jobs-rich” and “transit-rich” areas, which may include certain exceptions to specified requirements for zoning, density, parking, height restrictions, and floor area ratios, according to bill analysis. It was no secret that there were significant disputes over SB 50 among Democrats over housing affordability solutions. Democrats who hail from middle class and affluent cities were under pressure to oppose the bill which many believe would have greatly changed residential neighborhoods from single-family homes to adding many apartment buildings, and low-income housing.
This “gut and amend” processes is sneaky and devious, but not illegal. Given that the Legislature writes the laws, it’s also self-serving.
Bills brought back to life via the gut and amend process never have public scrutiny or go the deliberative committee process.
SB 592, the new bill called the Housing Accountability Act, takes the local control of planning and zoning from cities in the name of supply-side economics, according to Hydee Feldstein, a retired attorney in Los Angeles, active on land-use issues. SB 330 and AB 1487 are the other two bills in this gut and amend scheme.
In a nutshell, SB 592 will allow the stripping of nearly all zoning and land-use requirements from any type of housing, the removal of measures targeting housing affordability, and the inability to regulate disruptive business models such as short-term rentals, communal living, or corporate housing.
In 2017, the California Legislature passed a comprehensive package of 15 housing bills that became effective January 1, 2018. While not perfect from anyone’s perspective, that package balanced the different policies and alternatives and was determined to be the best way forward to create affordable housing and address the housing needs in our state.
Not even one construction cycle has elapsed since those bills came into effect, yet industry has already come back—through their lobby and certain legislators—to try to undo all that was accomplished in 2017. The 2019 legislative package is an effort to roll back the requirements for inclusionary affordable housing (by way of retroactive application in SB 330 and other bills) and to trample all over local control, safety, habitat, conservation, historic preservation, and other elements of good planning that were taken into account, though weakened, in the 2017 compromise legislation.
Previously in CityWatch LA, Feldstein said she had identified SB 592 as a prime target for a “gut and amend” to try to pass SB 50 provisions this year, partly because SB 592 had successfully passed the Senate Appropriations Committee (where SB 50 had been suspended). “On June 13, 2019, that is exactly what Senator Wiener did. He gutted and amended SB 592 to transform it into a ‘housing accountability act.'”
California Globe previously reported: “Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Canada Flintridge), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he was against SB 50 because it would have trumped zoning rules that are almost exclusively under the control of cities and counties, the Los Angeles Times reported. Portantino announced that the bill had been shelved until 2020 at the beginning of the committee’s hearing Thursday morning. Portantino said in an interview that he was especially concerned by provisions in the bill that would have increased density around busy bus routes, saying doing so would be out of scale with existing communities. ‘A lot of them go through ‘residential neighborhoods.’”
Feldstein says the 2019 legislative package is an effort to roll back the requirements for inclusionary affordable housing (by way of retroactive application in SB 330 and other bills) and to trample all over local control, safety, habitat, conservation, historic preservation, and other elements of good planning that were taken into account, though weakened, in the 2017 compromise legislation.
“It accomplishes the parcel zoning and relief from density as proposed in SB 50, but in an even more underhanded manner,” Feldstein said.
Feldstein explains the new bills:
- SB 592, like SB 330, defines “housing development project” to include “mixed-use developments consisting of residential and nonresidential uses” and “transitional housing or supportive housing,” all without any reference to underlying zoning or use restrictions.
- coupled with the revised definition of “housing development project,” validates the co-housing, communal living, corporate housing, extended stay, and private clubs cropping up in residential neighborhoods where zoning otherwise would prohibit such arrangements. These are not residential uses consistent with neighborhood zoning, but rather businesses that chop up interior space to maximize beds and provide shared kitchen, bath, and common living areas, renting out each bed in a shared space and often filling empty beds on a short-term basis with business travelers and tourists. SB 592 makes it impossible for a city or county to regulate these arrangements, no matter how much they may disrupt current zoning, require additional services, burden infrastructure, or disrupt neighborhoods.
Feldstein says all of the following is gone under SB 592:
- Residential zoning. Any “non-residential” use is permitted up to 1/3rd of the space of a project, including the running of a hotel, extended stay, corporate, boarding or rooming house, dorm or other business renting out a bed or other “residential” space.
- Low-density zoning of any kind, particularly single-family or two-family zoned residences.
- Architectural, design, historic and aesthetic standards. All areas now are open to Soviet-style grey cinderblock construction or Robert Moses-style overcrowded projects.
- All “objective” zoning criteria if a project “could be approved” on a variance or conditional use or any other discretionary request.
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