Here’s today’s test: If SB 827, legislation introduced by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, designed to up-zone most California suburbs is enacted, who’s going to pay its costs?
Wiener’s bill grants “by-right” permission to erect multi-unit dwellings up to eight stories tall within a quarter-mile of bus stops along streets where buses operate at least every 15 minutes during peak periods.
If it passes, say goodbye to local planning.
It’s part of the ongoing “war against suburbia” favored by big-city politicians and their construction, real estate and technology industry allies.
San Francisco, San Jose and similar booming locales are magnets for high-income technology jobs. That has caused rents to skyrocket and housing to become scarce.
It’s Wiener’s idea that adjacent small-town suburbs should become little big cities to provide cheap housing for urban workers.
SB 827 has major Marin implications.
The densification mandates will apply to all property one-quarter of a mile from bus stops up and down Highway 101; parts of Novato’s San Marin Drive, Novato Boulevard, Redwood Boulevard and Hamilton Parkway; San Rafael’s Third and Fourth streets and Francisco Boulevard; Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, from Manor Road in Fairfax to the Larkspur Ferry; Kentfield’s College Avenue, Magnolia Avenue in Larkspur and Tamalpais Drive in Corte Madera; Mill Valley’s Miller and East Blithedale avenues; Tam Junction’s Shoreline Highway; around the Strawberry Shopping Center and the length of Sausalito’s Bridgeway.
The up-zoning radius also extends a half-mile from Tiburon and Larkspur ferry terminals and from all SMART depots.
SB 827 is so bad it’s hard to believe it has a decent chance of passage in some form. Given the big bucks behind it, don’t underestimate its prospects.
I saw state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, at the Democrats’ San Diego state convention. He rhetorically asked, “Who is going to pay for SB 827? Only three cities from the Golden Gate to the Oregon line have fire trucks that can handle eight-story buildings. What about water (for new residents)? Where does it come from?”
He could have also asked who pays for additional highway and transit capacity, larger schools and more police.
The cynicism behind this legislation is shameful. SB 827 includes a seemingly innocuous provision: “No reimbursement is required by this act pursuant to Section 6 of Article XIII-B of the California Constitution because a local agency or school district has the authority to levy services, charges, fees or assessments sufficient to pay for the programs or level of service mandates by this act within the meaning of Section 17556 of the Government Code.”
That’s boilerplate language routinely used in Sacramento to legally thwart the will of California voters. It’s no secret “we know best” solons are in the habit of instructing others but are loathe to pick up the resulting tab.
In 1979, voters approved Proposition 4, the “Gann Limit,” as a constitutional amendment requiring the state to reimburse local governments for costs of complying with state laws. When voters tried to force Sacramento to pay the piper, Government Code section 17556 emerged as a court-tested route to nullify the Gann Limit.
It provides if cities, counties or school districts theoretically can raise taxes to pay for whatever Sacramento tells them what to do, then legislators can cavalierly wash their hands of obligations to pay for their actions.
There’s one way to make Sacramento intellectually honest. Delete SB 827’s “no reimbursement” section.
If this miracle occurs, Wiener will have to find the cash needed for new public services necessitated by building inappropriate high-rise stack-and-pack suburban housing.
If the Legislature has to eliminate other pet programs to fund SB 827’s fiscal consequences, Wiener’s bill will soon experience an appropriate demise.
Columnist Dick Spotswood of Mill Valley writes about local issues on Sundays and Wednesdays. Email him at email@example.com.
Please click HERE to sign our online petition entitled; "NO on SB-827 & SB-828! Stop Top-Down Planning, Unsustainable High-Density Housing, and Unfunded Mandates!"