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Solimar Research

Amid Raging Public Debates, Weiner Injects More Nuance into SB 827

Josh Stephens on
Apr 11, 2018

With essentially the entire state talking about — and arguing over — Senate Bill 827, Sen. Scott Wiener released Version 3.0 yesterday with some major updates.  

SB 827 rose meteorically from the Statehouse the first week of January with a bold proposal to up-zone vast swaths of urban California in order to alleviate the state’s housing crisis. Designed to promote transit oriented infill development, the original bill defined transit zones broadly, allowed overly large buildings, and seemed to override local zoning. Critics also characterized it as a blank check to market-rate developers, without regard for concerns about displacement and social justice.  

History will judge whether Wiener went too aggressive too soon. In an interview with CP&DR six weeks ago, Weiner insisted that he always intended to amend SB 827 and that the first version was just a start. His first revision suggested that he’d taken much of the feedback to heart, and the third version – downscaled like a high-rise in the gunsights of neighborhood opponents – does more of the same.  

Wiener’s new provisions include the following:  

Affordable Housing Requirements: Previous versions of SB 827 allowed cities to impose inclusionary requirements or other regulations to promote affordable, subsidized housing. The new version requires inclusionary housing, even if a city does not already have such a provision. Weiner has based the inclusionary requirements on existing Density Bonus Law. 

Restrict Demolitions: Responding to concerns about displacement, SB 827 would forbid demolition of any building that has had an Ellis Act eviction within the previous five years. 

No Net Loss: Projects built under SB 827 may not decrease the stock of affordable units; developers must offer a right-of-return to any tenants displaced by construction. 

Height Restrictions: Some critics of SB 827 published doctored photos showing endless banks of high-rises, apparently lifted from photos of Hong Kong or Shanghai, superimposed on California cities. In reality, SB 827 allowed buildings of up to eight stories (possibly more, with density bonuses), but that has been cut to 55 feet around rail and ferry stations, with no mandatory height increases around bus lines. The revision still allows for increased density and decreased parking. 

Redefining Qualifying Bus Stops: The original SB 827 defined “transit” so broadly as to cover vast swaths of many cities. Critics contended not only that it would lead to overdevelopment but also noted an important nuance of bus service: service levels can change. The revision defines headways that qualify.  

Delayed Implementation: The provisions of SB 827 would not go into effect until 2021. 

Parking Minimums and Transit Passes: The revision fiddles with parking minimums to allow cities to require a certain amount of parking beyond a quarter-mile radius of a major transit stop. It also requires developers to provide residents with transit passes — possibly a strong enticement for them to use transit, but also an expensive amenity for developers. 

Square Footage: Projects must dedicate at least two-thirds of their square footage to residential uses.  

The big question remaining is whether stakeholders who were turned off by the original bill — some of them calling it tone-deaf, some of them calling it much worse — can be swayed. While SB 827 has had vocal supporters, including individuals and organizations in the YIMBY movement and planning scholars from around the country, it has also roused serious organized opposition from social justice organizations, tenants rights groups, and even environmental groups such as the presumably pro-infill Sierra Club. The city councils of both Los Angeles and San Francisco (where Wiener was a city/county supervisor) have voted on and proclaimed their opposition to the bill.  

Typically, bills get negotiated quietly in Sacramento, among lawmakers and only the most interested stakeholders. Very few receive this sort of public attention, so it remains to be seen whether this more nuanced version of SB 827 will drive the discussion forward or simply give the sides more to howl about. As well, it remains to be seen whether Weiner’s staunchest YIMBY supporters will weaken their resolve in the face of what could be considered watered-down bill.  

SB 827 is scheduled to receive its first public hearing April 17.

This article has been updated since is original publication.

 

 

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