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You May Say “Goodbye” To Your Single Family Neighborhood If Senate Bill 50 Passes

The California State Senate Appropriations Committee will vote on the controversial, high-density housing bill, Senate Bill 50 (Wiener), on Thursday, May 16th. If the bill passes the Appropriations Committee, then it will head to the Senate floor.

Please read on to learn about Senate Bill 50. If you agree that the bill is flawed and should be defeated, then please follow the “TAKE ACTION” suggestions at the end of this article.


Before moving forward to the Senate Appropriations Committee, the Senate Governance and Finance Committee approved SB-50. In the process, the Governance and Finance Committee made many amendments to the bill on May 1, 2019. The following description of the bill reflects these amendments.

For the majority of Marin, the most concerning aspect of SB-50 is that it allows the construction of fourplexes, by right, in all residential areas (including all single-family neighborhoods), provided the projects meet minimal criteria. Say "Goodbye" to single family neighborhoods! Moreover, the bill greatly reduces parking requirements.

Essentially, SB-50 is divided up into two parts:

1) "Neighborhood Multifamily Projects" and

2) "Equitable Communities Incentives".

The portion of SB-50 that deals with "Neighborhood Multifamily Projects" treats all counties and cities the same. The portion of the bill that applies to "Equitable Communities Incentives" treats a county with a population greater than 600,000 differently than a county with a population equal to or less than 600,000. In addition, the "Equitable Communities Incentives" section treats cities with populations greater than 50,000 differently than cities with populations less than 50,000.

"Neighborhood Multifamily Project":

SB-50 defines a "Neighborhood Multifamily Project" as a project to construct a multifamily structure of up to four residential dwelling units that meets certain criteria. More specifically, SB-50 allows the construction of fourplexes, by right, in all residential areas (including all single-family neighborhoods) on vacant land or by converting homes, provided 75% of the existing exterior walls remain intact and the interior square footage is not increased by more than 15 percent. In addition, the project must meet local height, setback and lot coverage zoning requirements, as they exist on July 1, 2019. However, parking requirements are reduced to just 0.5 off-street parking spots per unit. This section applies to all Marin Cities and Unincorporated areas.

"Equitable Communities Incentive" for Marin County:

SB-50 would require a city or county to grant upon request an "Equitable Communities Incentive" when a residential development satisfies specified criteria, including that the development is either a job-rich housing project or a transit-rich housing project.

The "Equitable Communities Incentive" portion of the bill treats counties with populations greater than 600,000 differently than counties with populations equal to or less than 600,000. Marin County falls into the latter category. Counties with populations equal to or less than 600,000 would generally abide by a scaled-back version of SB-50.

For cities with populations greater than 50,000 (such as Novato and San Rafael) that sit within a county with a population equal to or less than 600,000 (such as Marin County), job-rich and transit-rich housing projects within a half mile of rail or ferry terminals would be granted the following: The height of such projects could be increased by one story or 15 feet above the highest allowable height. For example, if the neighborhood is zoned for three-story buildings, a developer could build up to four stories under SB 50. Moreover, the qualifying projects would be able to waive maximum controls on density, maximum Floor Area Ratio (FAR), and minimum parking requirements greater than 0.5 off-street parking spots per unit.

With the latest amendments, in Marin County, the "Equitable Communities Incentive" portion of the bill would only apply to the City of Novato and the City of San Rafael. Unincorporated Marin and other cities within Marin County would be exempt from this section.

SB-50 exempts projects from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) approval process:

This bill would establish a streamlined ministerial approval process for neighborhood multifamily and transit-oriented projects, thereby exempting these projects from the CEQA approval process.


SB-50 is the wrong solution to meet our affordable housing needs.

When discussing the need for housing, it is important to recognize that California’s population growth rate is at a record low and predicted to remain low. Estimates released on May 1, 2019 show that the State had its slowest recorded growth rate (.47%) in its history last year (2018) due to a slowdown in immigration, a sharp decline in births, and an increase in deaths. Therefore, California, as a whole, only needs a modest increase in housing every year.

We do not need to significantly up-zone vast areas of the state to accomplish this. There is plenty of potential housing buildout already allowed by the General Plans and zoning of jurisdictions throughout the state. And this potential housing buildout will grow each time jurisdictions update their Housing Elements (AKA housing plans) and plan to meet new Regional Housing Need Allocations (RHNA) (AKA housing quotas).

Instead, we need funding and subsidies for local solutions to affordable housing as well as for the adverse impacts that the increased housing would create. In regard to the jobs/housing imbalance created by large corporations, the State should provide incentives to Corporations for them to open offices in the less populated areas of the State that are jobs poor and housing rich, where the cost of land and housing are much less expensive;

Senate Bill 50 would pose a significant threat to local control, democracy, and public engagement.

The bill would override local land use plans and regulations and eviscerate decades of careful planning. Local planning efforts (general plans and zoning ordinances) encourage public engagement and are much better than the State at determining where and how much housing growth should occur. Local planning efforts are also better at anticipating necessary government services such as water, sewer, utilities, schools and traffic flow;

The bill does not solve affordable housing needs and would actually decrease opportunities for affordable housing.

Exemptions from low-density zoning standards such as those proposed in the bill would greatly increase land values near transit and jobs as up-zoning confers a monetary benefit to property owners and developers. Therefore, the bill would decrease opportunities for the development of affordable housing because the increased value of land would exacerbate the challenges affordable housing developers have in competing for expensive parcels.

The bill would increase traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions.

For “job-rich housing projects”, the bill allows developers to build much denser, taller housing, while lowering parking requirements, within high-income areas that are close to jobs and schools but may not be near any public transportation. For "Neighborhood Multifamily Projects", the bill also allows fourplexes with reduced parking requirements to be built in areas that may not be near any public transportation. Without public transportation, tenants would be forced to drive vehicles to get to destinations and would have to park on the street due to insufficient off-street parking spaces. Due to more cars on the road plus more circulation of those cars, as residents search for vacant on-street parking spaces, traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions would rise.

The bill would increase displacement of existing residents, particularly those from low-income communities.

The subsequent housing densification and population growth would increase the risk of adverse impacts on the environment, public health and safety, traffic congestion, infrastructure, utilities (water supply), public services (schools), views, sunlight, privacy, neighborhood character, and quality of life.

Worse still, SB-50 exempts qualifying neighborhood multifamily and transit-oriented projects from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) approval process.

The bill would create unfunded mandates.

There is no funding for dealing with the above listed impacts and the bill provides an official sidestep of addressing this issue. The bill states; “No reimbursement is required by this act pursuant to Section 6 of Article XIII-B of the California Constitution because a local agency or school district has the authority to levy services, charges, fees or assessments sufficient to pay for the programs or level of service mandates by this act within the meaning of Section 17556 of the Government Code.” Moreover, there are no subsidies provided for affordable housing programs.


If you agree that Senate Bill 50 should be defeated, then please do the following:

Call the members of the Senate Appropriations Committee and urge them to vote "NO" on Senate Bill 50. In addition, send emails/letters to Mark McKenzie (Staff Director for the Committee). Scroll down for contact information.

Sample Script: "Hi. My name is __. I'm calling in opposition to SB 50, which will be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday, May 16th. I'm calling to express my opposition to this top-down bill. This bill will have statewide adverse impacts without solving the housing problem. I urge the Senator to oppose it."

Contact Information for members of the State Senate Appropriations Committee and their aides:

Senator Anthony Portantino (Chair): (916) 651-4025

Senator Patricia C. Bates (Vice Chair): (916) 651-4036

Senator Steven Bradford: (916) 651-4035

Senator Jerry Hill: (916) 651-4013

Senator Brian W. Jones: (916) 651-4038

Senator Bob Wieckowski: (916) 651-4010

Mark McKenzie (Staff Director for the Senate Appropriations Committee):

Thank you in advance for taking action.

Together we can make a difference!