(CN) — State Senator Scott Weiner’s bill aimed at increasing density near transit centers in cities and counties throughout California won the approval of his colleagues during a Tuesday session of the Housing and Community Development Committee of the California Assembly.
Senate Bill 10 would provide cities and counties the opportunity to reform their zoning in transit-rich areas of their jurisdictions in an attempt to deemphasize single-family homes in favor of multi-unit homes and apartment complexes. The theory in positioning multi-unit houses near transit is that residents would be able to take public transportation and not contribute to the state’s infamous traffic congestion issues.
“Incentivize cities and counties to concentrate and urban infill in transit-rich areas by giving cities a voluntary tool,” Weiner said while introducing the bill.
The Democrat from San Francisco stressed the zoning program would be voluntary, as local jurisdictions have bristled at previous iterations of the bill that made the proposed zoning changes mandatory.
“What I’ve heard from my constituents is that they understand there is a housing crisis, but they believe in local control,” said Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel.
Weiner has been bringing various permutations of the housing bill to the floor for the past two years, but after the last one was sidelined, Weiner sought to make the law more of a tool for local governments interested in addressing the housing problem in California and less of a hammer to punish them.
Zach Hilton, a firefighter and city council member in Gilroy, said he became a housing advocate because he can’t afford to live in the community he serves.
“There is a growing class of lower-income commuters who are unable to access housing within several hours of their job,” Hilton said.
Many housing advocates contend California’s homeless crisis is tied to a lack of affordable housing opportunities, which is in part caused by low inventory creating upward pressure on prices, whether for rent or ownership.
Bill Brand, mayor of Redondo Beach, argued SB 10 would not create more affordable housing, but would instead lead to a proliferation of luxury housing due to the incentives to developers.
“It’s environmentally irresponsible and doesn’t address affordable housing,” he said.
Brand also noted that SB 10 allows jurisdictions to circumvent the California Environmental Quality Act, which analyzes the environmental impact of development.
“CEQA is an important tool to allow growth without destroying our quality of life,” Brand said.
But Weiner said the zoning changes only apply in areas that are already developed and does not apply to open space and other undeveloped areas.
“This is an anti-sprawl bill,” he said.
Ultimately, most of Weiner’s colleagues voted to send the bill out of committee, with some saying the bill encouraged responsible housing creation without sacrificing local control.
“It makes it easier for cities to allow for moderate density infill housing,” said David Chiu, committee chair.
In previous years, Wiener’s proposals have faltered in the face of opposition from Republicans and Democrats who were worried a state mandate would remove control over housing decisions from local officials. For example, critics cast a previous bill that would have lifted zoning restrictions to allow multistory affordable housing units near transit centers as an “attack” on single-family neighborhoods.
But Wiener and supporters like California YIMBY, say relaxing low-density laws that have been in place for decades is the fastest way to making a real dent in the state’s housing shortage. They argue it would also have the added benefit of slowing urban sprawl and that building near transit would cut down on greenhouse gas emissions.
Following last year’s defeat of Wiener’s bill, state Senator Toni Atkins directed lawmakers to continue brainstorming while Governor Gavin Newsom urged the Legislature to send him a “historic housing production bill.”
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.
This time around, Atkins is promising to make housing reform a staple of the Senate’s overarching agenda once it resumes in January. She’s sponsoring three bills, including one that would make it easier for homeowners to create duplexes and fourplexes in single-family neighborhoods.
The committee considered other housing-related bills Tuesday.
Senate Bill 9 streamlines the process owners must go through to gain approval for duplex projects and is modeled after similar efforts the state and municipalities have taken to boost development of accessory guest houses or so-called casitas.
Another piece of the package would allow residential projects on certain commercial lots, including strip malls.
Citing an ongoing spike in commercial vacancies, state Senator Anna Caballero says her bill will give cities creativity in meeting their housing production goals. She predicts Senate Bill 6 will particularly benefit farmworker communities by leading to walkable new neighborhoods near retail centers.
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