California State Senator Scott Wiener’s revolutionary SB 827, which would have dramatically upzoned land near public transit stations (covering much of the land in the Golden State’s cities) died in committee last April. But now upzoning is back with a vengeance.
Yesterday, Wiener introduced SB 50, authored by a bipartisan coalition and modeled on SB 827. From the legislative counsel’s digest:
This bill would require a city, county, or city and county to grant upon request an equitable communities incentive when a development proponent seeks and agrees to construct a residential development, as defined, that satisfies specified criteria, including, among other things, that the residential development is either a job-rich housing project or a transit-rich housing project, as those terms are defined; the site does not contain, or has not contained, housing occupied by tenants or accommodations withdrawn from rent or lease in accordance with specified law within specified time periods; and the residential development complies with specified additional requirements under existing law. The bill would require that a residential development eligible for an equitable communities incentive receive waivers from maximum controls on density and automobile parking requirements greater than 0.5 parking spots per unit, up to 3 additional incentives or concessions under the Density Bonus Law, and specified additional waivers if the residential development is located within a 1/2-mile or 1/4-mile radius of a major transit stop, as defined. [Emphasis added]The bill would authorize a local government to modify or expand the terms of an equitable communities incentive, provided that the equitable communities incentive is consistent with these provisions.
There’s a lot to love about SB 50, but one of the key provisions is the bolded section above: compliant developments “shall receive” the waivers indicated. This is crucial–local control enables NIMBYs to block developments, but mandating the waivers be granted after meeting set criteria takes power away from the rent-seekers.
The novel contribution made by SB 50 that wasn’t in SB 827 is the addition of incentives to create housing near “job-rich” areas. The legislation would create an “equitable communities incentive.” Local governments “shall, upon request of a development proponent” grant waivers on maximum density controls and parking requirements greater than 0.5 spots per unit, among other forms of regulatory relief. Qualifying developments must be within a certain distance of job-rich areas and set aside a number of units for low-income renters.
For qualifying developments within ¼ and ½ miles of a transit stop, SB 50 would cap height restrictions at 55 feet and 45 feet, respectively.
Like most sequels, it’s not quite the same as the original. For example, an earlier version of SB 827 would have set a cap on the maximum height limitation of 85 feet for developments within ¼-mile of major transit and 55 feet for developments between ¼ and ½ miles of a transit stop. The caps on maximum height requirements are borrowed from later versions of the legislation.
Hopefully SB 50 will succeed where SB 827 fell short. If it does, it will show not only that California is getting serious about its housing affordability crisis, but also the benefits of trial and error in the policymaking process.