On Preservation: Sacramento strikes back: with the many sons of failed SB 50

| July 2, 2020 | 0 Comments

There is a maxim in politics that states, “Never let a good crisis go to waste,” a saying currently being amply exploited by our legislature in Sacramento. Under the cover of a global pandemic and civil unrest, once again State Sen. Scott Wiener, the maestro of failed SB 50, is trying to foist dodgy housing laws upon our communities in his crusade to end single-family housing in California. This time he has partnered with Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins to push forward a package of five bills: SB 902, SB 995, SB 1085, SB 1120 and SB 1385.

For the historic communities of Greater Wilshire and Mid-City, these bills are a poisoned arrow pointed directly at the heart of the many hardwon protections and community values that have sustained our neighborhoods for decades. Our many Historic, Preservation Overlay Zones (HPOZs), National Register Historic Districts, and special planning zones and districts all come under fire in the drive for more density and more luxury housing, regardless of community input.

SB 902, which passed the State Senate on June 22, would, according to the “San Francisco Business Journal,” “effectively remove single-family zoning in almost all jurisdictions.” The bill, which still needs concurrence from the State Assembly and the Governor, allows local governments to pass a zoning ordinance which is not subject to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for projects that allow up to 10 units, if the projects are located in transit- and jobs-rich areas (a yet-to-be-defined standard) or an urban infill site. There are no exemptions in the bill for HPOZs, special design or planning districts, or identified historic resources.

SB 995 would further streamline the CEQA process for projects that include at least 15 percent affordable housing as well as expand the use of the Master Environmental Impact Report (MEIR) process to allow cities to pre-plan projects and thus prevent local opposition to future “environmental leadership projects.” That’s yet another end-run around local control.

SB 1085 attempts to enhance the current Density Bonus Law, increasing incentives in exchange for more affordable housing. One of these incentives is the removal of language in the original law protecting historic resources, specifically those on the California Register. The original law itself has been criticized for producing loads of luxury units and very little affordable housing, but this bill does not fix that issue, thereby giving more to developers than they will ever give back.

SB 1385, of all of the bills of this package, is probably the best; however it is the least applicable to Los Angeles. This bill would allow residential development on land zoned for office and retail use, but the development must respect all existing regulations. The majority of “C”-zoned properties in Los Angeles already
do not prohibit housing, and mixed-use developments (commercial with residential above) have been a part of the city’s planning fabric since the very beginning, including on Larchmont Blvd. If you want to support one bill, this would be it.

SB 1120, Wiener’s pièce de résistance, would streamline the process for a homeowner to create a duplex or subdivide an existing lot in all non-historic residential areas. According to the advocacy group Livable California, adoption of SB 1120 would mean, “four units of luxury housing, or two McMansions, to replace single-family homes in more than 800 California municipalities, dispensing with [the need for] public hearings.” However, such development would be required to meet a list of qualifications that ensure protection of local zoning and design standards, local historic districts, environmental quality and existing tenants. This means while Hancock Park, Windsor Village, Windsor Square, Wilshire Park and other local HPOZs may be excluded, neighborhoods
such as Ridgewood-Wilton (a National Historic District), Citrus Square, Sycamore Square, Country Club Heights, La Brea-Hancock, Western-Wilton, etc. could see significant new luxury development under this proposed law.

So I urge you to contact your local councilmembers (who have no direct vote but who can influence state legislators they know), and — especially — state Senators and Assemblymembers, plus local advocacy groups, to oppose these bills and to urge preserving local control over our local neighborhoods.

Sacramento and luxury housing developers are not letting a crisis go to waste. Let’s not, either. Tell elected officials to vote NO.

By Brian Curran

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Category: Real Estate

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