California Lawmaker Looks to ‘Burbs to Solve Housing Crisis

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – In his latest attempt to renovate California zoning codes, state Senator Scott Wiener is looking to the suburbs for help with fixing the state’s housing crisis.

Less than two months after his proposal to force local governments to allow apartments and other high-density projects near transit centers failed, Wiener on Tuesday proposed allowing developers to build multi-unit projects in areas designated for single-family housing.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

By overriding local control and allowing developers to build up to four units per parcel, Wiener claims his bill will make a “significant difference” in California’s estimated 3.5 million-unit deficit.


“Senate Bill 902 is a thoughtful and balanced approach to California’s housing crisis, and it will make a significant difference. To tackle California’s severe housing shortage, we must all pitch in,” said Wiener in a statement.

The San Francisco Democrat has carried the torch for housing reforms during his time in the state Senate and has been unyielding in his support for building high-density housing in busy cities and job centers. But for three straight years, Wiener was unable to convince the Senate that removing control over housing decisions from local lawmakers was politically expedient.

Wiener’s latest attempt, Senate Bill 50, fell three votes short in January after he failed to convince a collection of Southern California Democratic senators to vote for the bill. It was an unexpected blow not just for Wiener, but for Gov. Gavin Newsom who campaigned on easing California’s housing shortage and has called for a “historic housing production bill.”

Following the vote, state Senate President Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, directed lawmakers to come back with solutions and “get ready to come to the table.”

Under Wiener’s newest proposal, cities couldn’t prevent developers from building duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes in current residential areas. Cities with under 10,000 residents would have to allow at least two units, cities between 10,000 and 50,000 three units, and cities over 50,000 four units. Local municipalities in high fire-risk areas would be exempt under SB 902.

The Harvard-trained lawyer and former San Francisco supervisor says the statewide tiered system would protect projects from unnecessary delays and appeals often made at the local level, and that SB 902 would additionally bar owners from demolishing rent-controlled properties. The proposal also offers a streamlined process for local governments with transit-rich centers looking to re-zone residential areas or infill urban sites.

“By authorizing two, three and four units per parcel statewide, and by giving cities a powerful new tool to increase density even more, SB 902 recognizes that we’re all in this together and makes it easier for cities to do the right thing,” Wiener said.

Despite the Legislature’s recent focus, homebuilding was down 7% in 2019 compared to 2018. A recent industry report found just 110,000 new housing permits were issued in 2019. The record for issued permits was 322,000 in 1963, according to the Construction Industry Research Board.

Newsom said on the campaign trail he wanted to see the state create 3.5 million new units by 2025 and improve on California’s ranking of 49th out of 50 in housing units per capita.

Wiener and several other lawmakers have answered Senate President Atkins’ and Newsom’s call for housing legislation in recent weeks.

Lawmakers have introduced legislation allowing churches to build up to five-story developments on their parking lots, a $500 million tax credit to reward landlords for keeping their properties in subsidized housing and plans to exempt new low-income housing from the thorny California Environmental Quality Act, and legislation that would encourage low-income housing in commercial areas.

Wiener says SB 902 is just part of a package of bills lawmakers will pursue and bring before policy committees in the spring.

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