May 26, 2020
From: Sustainable TamAlmonte, 215 Julia Ave., Mill Valley, CA 94941
To: Senate Housing Committee, State Capitol, Room 2209, Sacramento, CA 95814
Re: OPPOSE SB 902 - Planning and zoning: housing development: density
Dear Senate Housing Committee,
We strongly urge you to oppose Senate Bill 902.
I. ABOUT SENATE BILL 902
SB 902 (Wiener) Planning and zoning: housing development: density: This bill permits a local government to pass an ordinance to zone any parcel (including those in single-family zones) up to 10 units of residential density per parcel, at a height specified by the local government in the ordinance, if the parcel is located in a transit-rich area, a jobs-rich area, or an urban infill site, as specified. Moreover, such ordinances would not be subject to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
II. REASONS TO OPPOSE SB-902
A. Politicians should not be able to override the preferences of local voters:
In 1911, California voters amended the Constitution to provide voters the power to enact initiatives and referenda. The power of initiative is integral to California’s political process. One common way the initiative power is used is to adopt urban growth boundaries or other growth management ordinances. SB 902 allows local officials to adopt zoning that allows up to 10 units on a parcel, even if local voters have said they don’t want it. Politicians should not be able to override the preferences of local voters.
B. Weakening the California Environmental Quality Act is misguided:
A CEQA exemption for the approval of a zoning ordinance that would allow up to 10 residential units per parcel removes the ability of local governments to be fully informed of the ordinance’s potential environmental consequences. Without that review, a local government would not be properly informed of traffic impacts, air impacts, or compatible use issues. It is unacceptable for the public to live with the consequences of a zoning ordinance that would not be fully vetted and whose impacts were not mitigated and alternatives not considered.
The California Environmental Quality Act, which became law in 1970, is our state’s landmark environmental law. Its purpose is to foster transparency and integrity in public decision-making while ensuring land use decisions take the full impacts of development on our natural and human environments into account. It is one of the most powerful environmental protection laws in the nation.
CEQA gives the community a voice in land use decisions. It requires decision-makers to adopt alternatives or mitigation measures to reduce significant adverse environmental impacts. As such, it plays a critical role in preserving and enhancing California’s public health, safety, and the environment.
The Act was designed to ensure that a project applicant—not the public—bears the costs of providing the necessary infrastructure to support a project. It also provides the public and decision-makers with “the big picture” and helps ensure that many small projects are not considered separately, only to overwhelm a community when taken as a whole.
CEQA protections should be strengthened rather than further weakened.
C. Increasing housing density 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 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 is not the answer. This strategy primarily benefits real estate investors, developers, and large corporations rather than those in need of affordable housing. Besides, AB-68, which was enacted into law in 2019, has already dramatically increased potential housing buildout beyond what communities can sustainably contend with.
Furthermore, 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.
D. Single-family zoning is treasured and should be protected:
SB-902 would further erode 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/ )
In addition, since the outbreak of COVID-19, realtors report a trend of city dwellers wanting to move to single-family neighborhoods in the suburbs to escape dense living conditions, which contribute to the spread of the disease.
Over time, the bills would cause the supply of single-family homes to diminish due to conversions to duplexes and multifamily complexes and the price for the remaining single-family dwellings would become even more expensive. This would make it more difficult for residents to attain their preferred lifestyle.
III. SOLUTIONS TO OUR HOUSING NEEDS
Instead of SB-902, we need to provide the correct amount of affordable housing and prevent the loss of existing affordable housing.
To accomplish this, funding and subsidies are needed for local solutions to affordable housing, which could include building new affordable housing where it is already allowed and providing other affordable housing programs (vouchers, converting market-rate housing to affordable housing, encouraging living wages, maintaining existing affordable housing, etc.). In addition, funding/subsidies are required to mitigate 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/ )
Once again, we urge you to oppose Senate Bill 902. 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