July 8, 2020
FROM: Sustainable TamAlmonte
TO: California State Senate Housing Committee, California State Capitol, Sacramento, CA 95814
Re: OPPOSE Assembly Bill 2345 (Gonzalez and Chiu): Planning & Zoning: Density Bonuses: Annual Report: Affordable Housing
Dear Chair Senator Scott Wiener and Senate Housing Committee Members,
We strongly urge you to oppose Assembly Bill 2345 (Gonzalez and Chiu): “Planning & Zoning: Density Bonuses: Annual Report: Affordable Housing”.
The California Density Bonus Law is badly backfiring, creating far too much luxury and market-rate housing and far too little low-income housing. AB-2345 would accelerate this trend. The bill would reward developers with excessive density bonuses, concessions, and incentives, and let them erect dramatically larger luxury buildings, while providing only a few more affordable units. Developers would be allowed to circumvent well-planned local controls on density and development standards to a much greater extent. Overburdened local communities would be left to pay for the resultant adverse impacts and the necessary augmentation of infrastructure and public services, while developers’ profits rise. Current density bonus law is better than AB-2345’s proposed new version of the law. Rather than increasing housing density, other types of solutions should be sought to provide more affordable housing.
I. ABOUT ASSEMBLY BILL 2345
According to the State Density Bonus Law, local governments must grant a density bonus when an applicant for a housing development of five or more units seeks and agrees to construct a project that will contain a percentage of affordable housing.
Assembly Bill 2345 revises Density Bonus Law to increase the maximum allowable density and the number of concessions and incentives a developer can seek. E.g. Developers would be able to request a density bonus of 50% if they provide 15% very low-income units, 24% low-income units, or 44% moderate-income units. E.g. The bill requires a developer to receive five incentives and concessions for projects that include the following percentage of total units: 15% for very low-income households, 33% for lower-income households, and 33% for moderate-income households in a common interest development. In addition, the bill significantly lowers parking requirements.
II. REASONS TO OPPOSE ASSEMBLY BILL 2345
A. Assembly Bill 2345 further diminishes local government’s control of housing density and development standards:
Imposing additional density is another one-size-fits-all solution and ignores local governments’ and residents’ better judgement. 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.
B. Increasing density bonuses is the wrong approach to stimulate affordable housing production:
AB-2345 assumes that additional density bonuses as incentives would stimulate affordable housing production. However, it is clear that prior density bonus incentives are not working as the state is building less new affordable housing than it was in the 2000s.
Moreover, AB-2345’s density bonuses, incentives, and concessions are excessive. Communities would be burdened with huge housing projects along with a significant increase in population that would greatly exceed local plans and capacity. Subsequently, there would be an increase in the risk of significant adverse impacts and unfunded mandates. (See Sections F and G of this letter.) Density bonuses should not exceed the current 35%.
C. Assembly Bill 2345 would increase traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions:
Assembly Bill 2345 would increase the potential number of housing units in communities, while significantly lowering parking requirements.
As a result, the bill would increase the number of residents and vehicles in neighborhoods and the residents would have to park their vehicles 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.
D. Assembly Bill 2345 wrongly assumes that residents who live near transit don’t need vehicles and therefore don’t need parking spaces:
AB-2345 lowers parking requirements even further if the housing project is within ½ mile of mass transit or a fixed bus route.
AB-2345 presumes that residents who live within ½ mile of mass transit or a bus route would need less parking because they would rely on public transit instead of vehicles for their transportation needs. However, this is a false presumption in many counties, including Marin County.
Due to Marin’s insufficient and inconvenient public transportation and the need to carry children, equipment or large purchases, the vast majority of Marin residents rely on their personal vehicles to travel within Marin. Infrequent bus service provides transportation primarily in the North/South direction. SMART also travels North/South. There is little public transportation available for West/East travel. Many members of Marin’s population cannot walk or bike very far (E.g. Marin’s growing elderly population) or else find these non- motorized forms of transportation to be inappropriate for where they are going (E.g. They need to transport children or carry heavy objects). Therefore, Marin residents will most likely continue to rely primarily on their personal vehicles for transportation and will need places to park these vehicles.
Data from a recent Metropolitan Transportation Commission report confirms that most Marin residents use personal vehicles for their transportation needs and few use transit. MTC concluded that 73.5 % of Marin commuters drive to work and only 8.9 % of Marin commuters use transit to get to work.
E. Assembly Bill-2345 would jeopardize high and very high fire hazard areas:
There are many communities in “high” and “very high” fire hazard zones that have narrow windy streets and few roads out to safety. The bill allows a dramatic increase in population in these hazardous communities, while reducing off-street 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.
F. Assembly Bill 2345 would allow developers to construct even denser housing development, thereby greatly increasing the risk of significant adverse impacts:
AB-2345 increases the density bonus that a developer can request up to an excessive 50% density bonus. Whereas, current law allows up to a 35% density bonus.
The bill’s subsequent housing densification and population growth would increase the risk of significant 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.
G. Assembly Bill 2345 would create unfunded mandates:
Assembly Bill 2345 would require a city/county to grant greater density bonuses, incentives and concessions, and allow a housing developer to build many more units than the local regulations would normally allow. The new development and future inhabitants of the units would result in the need for more and improved infrastructure and public services as well as mitigations for the above listed potential adverse impacts.
Yet, AB-2345 provides that no reimbursement is required by this Act because a local government has the authority to levy service charges, fees, or assessments to pay for the program or level of services mandated by the Act.
Therefore, the bill would greatly strain local government budgets and subsequently local property owners’ budgets, as their property taxes would need to increase to pay for the new housing projects’ impacts. Either that, or local communities would suffer a lower quality of life. Increasing fiscal strain is especially misguided at this time, when local governments and residents are already struggling financially due to the effects of Covid-19 on the economy, jobs and revenue.
H. Another approach:
Instead of more carrots (density bonuses and incentives) for developers and more sticks (loss of control) for local governments, we recommend more sticks for developers and more carrots for local governments. Per Section A of this letter, local governments should be in control of local land use. Therefore, we oppose the State requiring local governments to follow additional mandates. However, incentives for local governments would be acceptable. We suggest that the State offer funding for affordable housing to local governments which do the following:
1.Require inclusionary housing; and
2.Disallow developers’ ability to pay a fee in lieu or donate land instead of building the required affordable housing.
This approach would eliminate problematic land donations or fees in-lieu, in which developers donate land or pay a fee instead of building affordable housing. Fees in-lieu are often far below the actual cost of building the units, creating an attractive arbitrage for developers of market-rate housing. Donated land sites may not be equivalent to the value of the required housing units. Moreover, land, without development, is not ready for inhabitation. This results in little affordable housing being built.
Once again, we urge you to oppose Assembly Bill 2345. The bill would reward developers who erect huge luxury and market-rate buildings with only a token of affordable units. Excessive density bonuses and incentives would overburden local communities, which would be left to pay for the resultant adverse impacts and the necessary augmentation of infrastructure and public services, while developers’ profits rise. Current density bonus law is better than the AB-2345’s proposed new version of the law. Rather than increasing housing density, other types of solutions should be sought to provide more affordable housing.
Thank you in advance for your conscientious consideration.
Very truly yours,
Sharon Rushton, Chairperson