January 12, 2020
FROM: Sustainable TamAlmonte, Mill Valley, CA
TO: Senate Appropriations Committee; Senator Anthony Portantino, Chair; State Capitol, Room 3086, Sacramento, CA 95814
Re: OPPOSE Senate Bill 50
Dear Chair Senator Portantino and Senate Appropriations Committee Members,
We urge you to vote “NO” on Senate Bill 50 (Wiener). SB-50 is an unprecedented taking of local planning powers that hands city and community decision-making directly to luxury housing developers. The bill is fundamentally flawed and the amendments are far from adequate to remedy the bill’s many problems.
Reasons to oppose Senate Bill 50 are:
- SB-50 is the wrong solution to meet our affordable housing needs. Senate Bill 50 is based on the unrealistic premise that there is a shortage of 3.5 million homes in California. This number, which is based on a study that uses New York as a benchmark, has been proven false by the Embarcadero Institute. Visit - https://embarcaderoinstitute.com/portfolio-items/3-5-million-california-housing-shortage-number-is-wrong-fueling-poor-policy/
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 December 20, 2019 by the California Department of Finance show that, for the 12 month period ending July 1, 2019, California lost 39,500 people due to a sharp decline in births, an increase in deaths, a slowdown in immigration, and more people leaving the state.
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 to meet new Regional Housing Need Allocations.
So, vast up-zoning by the State for mostly market rate housing, which SB-50 mandates, is not the answer. This strategy primarily benefits real estate investors, developers, and large corporations. Instead, we need to provide the correct amount of affordable housing and prevent the loss of existing affordable housing.
To accomplish this, we need funding and subsidies for local solutions to affordable housing. Such solutions could include building new affordable housing where it is already allowed as well as providing other affordable housing programs (housing vouchers, conversions of market rate housing to affordable housing, encouraging living wages, maintaining existing affordable housing, etc.). In addition, we need funding and subsidies 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. In addition, require “Full Mitigation”, which makes commercial development approval contingent on adequate housing. (See Palo Alto Mayor Filseth’s article - https://padailypost.com/2020/01/03/guest-opinion-who-should-pay-for-tech-expansion/ )
- 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. The option for local jurisdictions to develop their own housing plans within 2 years is virtually meaningless due to the fact that such local plans must boost allowable housing density to the dramatic level required under SB-50.
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.
- SB-50 does virtually nothing to solve affordable housing needs and would actually decrease opportunities for affordable housing. If a project has 10 or less units, no affordability contribution is imposed. If a project has 11 to 20 units, the developer may pay an in-lieu fee instead of building any affordable units. If the project has more than 20 residential units, the developer may make a comparable affordability contribution toward housing offsite and not provide any affordable units on-site.
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.
- SB-50 would eliminate Single Family Zoning, even though most homebuyers/sellers prefer single-family homes. A 2019 Redfin survey found that regardless of where people live within the US, more than 85% of home buyers and sellers (including millennials) prefer single-family homes with more space, privacy, and gardens over a unit in a triplex that has a shorter commute. (See - https://www.redfin.com/blog/millennial-homebuyers-prefer-single-family-homes/ )
Over time, as SB-50 causes the supply of single-family homes to diminish due to conversions to multifamily complexes, the price for the remaining single-family dwellings will become even more expensive. This will make it more difficult for residents to attain their preferred lifestyle.
- SB-50 would increase displacement of existing residents, particularly those from low-income communities.
- SB-50 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.
- SB-50 would jeopardize high fire hazard areas. According to the bill, if a development adopts existing building standards or state fire mitigation measures, which any new development would have to do, then it would still be eligible for an equities communities incentive, regardless of being in a high fire hazard severity zone. A development that meets fire mitigation measures does nothing to help residents evacuate during a fire.
There are many communities in high fire hazard zones that have narrow windy streets and one road out to safety. The bill allows a dramatic increase in population in these hazardous communities while reducing parking requirements, which will lead to streets being overcrowded with parked cars. Dire consequences could result during an emergency when residents are unable to evacuate and fire trucks are unable to reach their destinations.
- 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.
- SB-50 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.
Once again, we urge you to oppose Senate Bill 50. Instead, support locally-grown sustainable strategies that enable our communities to meet all housing needs. In addition, provide incentives to Corporations to open offices in areas of the State that are jobs poor and housing rich; and require “Full Mitigation”, which makes commercial development approval contingent on adequate housing.
Thank you in advance for your conscientious consideration.
Very truly yours,
Sharon Rushton, Chairperson