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B. Schlanker-The Press Democrat

Senator Mike McGuire bows to Wiener's SB 50 plan to outlaw single family zoning


As reported by Kerry Cavanaugh in the Los Angeles Times, "On Wednesday, a key committee signed off on Senate Bill 50 — San Francisco Sen. Scott Wiener’s bill to allow denser, taller housing around transit and in communities with lots of jobs. As part of the negotiations, Wiener agreed to merge his proposal with Senate Bill 4 by Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) and the result includes one very big change: Single-family houses could be converted to four-unit buildings, by right, anywhere in the state."

Our Senator, Mike McGuire, played the key role in moving this legislation forward. McGuire, who ran on protecting local government control of zoning and planning, cut a deal with Senator Scott Wiener, in order to promote his own career and self importance, by capitulating to Wiener's demands to outlaw single family zoning throughout the state, with only minor exceptions. Senator McGuire was in the position to be a game changer, to push back and move forward with real solutions that really produce affordable housing. He had leverage, but he wasted it. It's not a victory when a less bad rule is adopted. Bad precedents lead to more bad laws.

The latest version of proposed Senate Bill 50, now throws Marin cities under the bus, albeit to a lesser extent than larger cities, which are required to permit much larger development by right. However, I would argue that the impacts on small-scaled Marin neighborhoods, with our narrow streets, scant parking, and maxed out infrastructure and schools will be just as large.

If this bill becomes law, this means that anyone can buy the house next to yours and "renovate" it (a term that is undefined) to become a four story, four-plex, multifamily unit without any consideration for parking, local zoning restrictions, and there's nothing you or your city council can do about it.

What this amounts to is rezoning and city planning by private developers and moneyed interests, your city, its taxpayers and approved General Plans and decades of growth planning be damned.

What this will logically equate to when developers run the numbers will be luxury housing "conversions" that max out every possible size restriction, and provide one so-called "affordable unit" - which will legally qualify for someone making 150% of median income (over $150,000 per year in Marin). Think luxury cars and SUVs clogging your street and upper floor windows looking down into you once private yards without any trees or landscaping buffers.

It remains questionable if this law can be passed without simultaneously amending the California State Constitution, which emphasizes the sovereignty of a city's General Plan. But, McGuire and his new best friend, Scott Wiener, apparently could care less about violating the State Constitution. As I've been saying for a while now, our single-party-state progressives are basically the polar opposite of Trump, but with the same self-satisfied arrogance and disregard to the law and time-honored conventions.

According to reporting in the LA Times, in testimony before the Senate Governance and Finance Committee, "David Reyes, planning director for the city of Pasadena, said that cities often spend significant time trying to engage residents before allowing large-scale changes to zoning, a process that wouldn’t happen under SB 50."

“What cities will do in response to a bill like this is sue the state,” Reyes said. “What cities will do is have chaos with respect to the democratic process.”

Senator Mike McGuire declared that his full support of Wiener was a victory, apparently unconcerned about such sentiments or legal challenges, and with an aplomb that is out of touch with his constituents.

On the Constitutional question, Senator McGuire apparently adheres to the old saying in the real estate business that says, "I guess we'll burn that bridge when we come to it."

The tragedy, of course, is that none of this will lead to creating any of the truly affordable housing that people really need. This is just another wasted opportunity to do something that works. Progressive "trickle down" theories are no better than far right trickle down theories. Neither work. The greater flaw in all this is that zoning in the suburbs like Marin is not the problem.

In 2015, the City of Mill Valley rezoned most of Miller Avenue and significant portions of other parts of the City to allow commercial and residential, multifamily mixed-use development as a conditional use. Using the same analytical techniques in the 2007 study, this essentially tripled the zoned capacity for multifamily housing in the City. Today, we have zoning in place for hundreds of new multifamily units.

So how much of this available zoning has been utilized in Mill Valley for affordable housing development?

The answer is that 95 percent of all the mixed-use multifamily housing sites identified in the 2007 analysis and rezoned for mixed-use in 2015, remain undeveloped. Worse, no new projects have even applied for or are currently being proposed. If lack of zoning is the problem, how is this outcome possible?

The answer is that the challenge is not lack of opportunity to build affordable housing, but a lack of financial incentives to do so in a market where construction costs are now the highest in the world (for reasons that have nothing to do with zoning). So, that is what we have to be focusing on, providing sufficient financial incentives to build affordable housing, not wreaking havoc on our fundamental property rights and local government powers.