April 28, 2021
FROM: Sustainable TamAlmonte
TO: Honorable Anthony Portantino, Senate Appropriations Committee, CA State Capitol, Room 2206, Sacramento, CA 95814
Re: OPPOSE Senate Bill 290 (Skinner) “Density Bonus Law: qualifications for incentives or concessions: student housing for lower income students: moderate-income persons and families: local government constraints”
Dear Chair Portantino and Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee,
We urge you to oppose Senate Bill 290 (Skinner) “Density Bonus Law: qualifications for incentives or concessions: student housing for lower income students: moderate-income persons and families: local government constraints”.
The California “density bonus” law is badly backfiring, creating far too much luxury and market-rate housing and far too little low-income housing. SB-290 would accelerate this trend. The bill would reward developers who erect huge housing complexes with predominantly market-rate and luxury units and fewer affordable units than ever. Overburdened local communities would be left to pay for the resultant adverse impacts and the necessary augmentation of infrastructure, utilities, and public services, while developers’ profits rise. Current density bonus law is better than SB-290’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 SENATE BILL 290
Senate Bill 290 would make several changes to existing Density Bonus Law and provide additional incentives and benefits to housing development projects that include moderate-income rental housing units, as specified.
II. REASONS TO OPPOSE SENATE BILL 290
A. Senate Bill 290 would incentivize the construction of moderate-income housing units at the expense of low and very low-income units:
While the author’s intent, according to the Senate analysis, is to incentivize the construction of more developments containing moderate-income units, this bill would have the unfortunate consequence of discouraging the development of low-income housing. This is due to the fact that it would enable certain developments with 20% low-income units to receive the same benefits (density and possible reduced parking) as certain developments with 20% moderate-income units. Given the choice, a developer will likely choose to develop the moderate-income units because those developments will yield more returns for the developer (i.e. the developer receives more in rent from a moderate-income household than from a low-income household).
B. Senate Bill 290 would incentivize developers to construct luxury and market-rate housing units instead of moderate-income housing units:
Current law requires a developer to provide 40% of moderate-income units to receive a 35% density bonus. SB-290 would lower the threshold and require a developer to provide only 20% of moderate-income units to receive the same 35% density bonus. As a result, the developer would likely build 20% more luxury and market-rate housing units instead of moderate-income units, since the luxury and market-rate units would yield more income and he/she would still receive the same bonus.
C. Senate Bill 290’s treatment of inclusionary zoning would further lower the number of affordable units constructed:
SB-290 requires any affordable units, which are constructed to receive a density bonus, to count towards a local government’s inclusionary ordinance, rather than be additive to the inclusionary ordinance requirement. This invalidates an inclusionary ordinance and greatly diminishes the amount of affordable housing that would typically be required to be constructed.
D. Senate Bill 290 further diminishes local government’s control of housing density:
Imposing additional density is another one-size-fits-all solution and ignores local government’s 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.
E. Senate Bill 290 would increase traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions:
Senate Bill 290 would increase traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions by lowering parking requirements for housing projects that provide moderate-income units.
Current law requires a developer to provide 1 onsite parking space per bedroom for moderate-income housing units with 1 to 3-bedrooms and 2.5 onsite parking spaces for moderate-income housing units with 4 or more bedrooms. SB-290 would lower this requirement to just .5 spaces per bedroom.
As a result, SB-290 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.
F. Senate Bill 290 would jeopardize 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.
G. Senate Bill 290 would allow developers to construct even denser housing development, thereby greatly increasing the risk of significant adverse impacts:
SB-290 increases the density for a development that contains 11% very-low-income units to receive a 40% density bonus instead of 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.
H. Senate Bill 290 would create unfunded mandates by eliminating the local government housing fees that pay for critical infrastructure and public services:
Senate Bill 290 would require a city/county to grant greater density bonuses 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. Yet, SB-290 prohibits local governments from imposing housing fees for low and moderate-income units or for any bonus units to help pay for the additional infrastructure and services. This 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.
Once again, we urge you to oppose Senate Bill 290. SB-290 further exacerbates the affordability crisis for lower-income households. The bill would reward developers who erect huge housing complexes with predominantly market-rate and luxury units and fewer affordable units than ever. Overburdened local communities would be left to pay for the resultant adverse impacts and the necessary augmentation of infrastructure, utilities and public services, while developers’ profits rise. Current density bonus law is better than the SB-290’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