Lawmakers push housing legislation as session ends

| July 1, 2020 | 0 Comments

RENDERING of what might be possible in Los Angeles neighborhoods if housing bills pass.

As Angelenos simultaneously deal with the coronavirus pandemic and nationwide protests, California lawmakers are busy in Sacramento pushing forward housing legislation that has the potential to forever change our historic neighborhoods.

With Aug. 31 the last day for each chamber to pass bills, state lawmakers are working fast, perhaps even hastily, to wrap up the current legislative session. Here’s what you should know.

SB 902

This bill, which passed the state Senate by a 33-3 vote June 22, would allow cities to grant by-right zoning approval for up to ten units in transit- and job-rich areas.

The bill is now headed to the Assembly for review.

In short, SB 902 would permit, but not require, local governments to implement zoning ordinances to permit housing projects of up to 10 units without CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) review, if the housing is located in a transit- or jobs-rich area or in an urban infill site.

San Francisco-based State Senator Scott Wiener says that this bill “provides cities with a powerful new tool to quickly re-zone for increased density.”

The bill was introduced following the Senate defeat of Wiener’s SB 50, a controversial housing production bill that would have preempted local control of zoning.

“If SB 902 becomes law, it would be among the most powerful tools cities have to increase the number of affordable homes in our cities,” read a June 23 statement from advocacy group California YIMBY celebrating the bill’s victory in the Senate.

“Worse than SB 50,” argues Livable California. According to that advocacy group, the bill allows a majority on any city council to rezone a parcel to 10-unit luxury apartments, overriding all other zoning, including single-family neighborhoods, creating a speculation frenzy.

AB 725

This bill, which passed the state Assembly by a 48-22 vote Jan. 30, would require that at least 25% of a jurisdiction’s share of the regional housing need for “moderate income” and “above moderate income” housing be allowed in neighborhoods whose current zoning permits at least two units, but no more than 35 units, of housing per acre. The bill is designed to facilitate the construction of “missing-middle” housing types (including duplexes, fourplexes, garden apartments and town homes) for moderate and above-moderate incomes.

Currently in the Senate, the bill was referred June 23 to the Senate Committee on Housing, where it is expected to be voted on in the coming weeks.

Focused on housing for moderate and above-moderate income categories, it does not create affordable housing. Critics argue therefore that the bill is a massive up-zoning Trojan horse that ignores affordable housing while wiping out existing communities in exchange for denser versions.

Further, there is odd language used in the bill, according to land-use attorney Robert Silverstein, who notes that the bill directs higher density growth to areas zoned for two units to 35 units per acre. “That is a strange metric to use,” says Silverstein. “In reality, that targets neighborhoods with expensive, high density projects. The language is a concern.”

Lots under this calculation can be between 1,250 and 21,750 square feet, which means that such housing will be allowed on nearly all Los Angeles single-family lots.

Surprised by how little attention this bill has garnered from lawmakers, Livable California suspects that many Assemblymembers supported the bill without realizing that the acreage-based language includes single-family neighborhoods.

Senate housing production package

Both of the bills described above are expected to receive their final legislative vote in the coming weeks, but they are in no way the only housing bills being considered in Sacramento. See page 2 of Section 2 for columnist Brian Curran’s take on the package of bills currently under consideration in the Senate.

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