Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Committee Kills High-Density Housing Bill - Senate Bill 827

HURRAY! After fierce debate, the State Senate Transportation and Housing Committee Kills High-Density Housing Bill - Senate Bill 827

Contemplative Senator Wiener with Senator Beall in the background (Photo by Paul Chinn, The Chronicle)

HURRAY! On Tuesday, the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee killed Senate Bill 827 (Wiener), a bill that would have limited the ability of counties and cities to block high-density apartment and condominium construction near public transit. 

The committee voted 5 "Nay" to 4 "Yay" and prevented the bill from moving forward.  Four Senators did not cast votes, even though they were present.  Here's how the Senators voted:

Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose (chair): No
Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres (Stanislaus County) (vice chair): No
Sen. Benjamin Allen, D-Santa Monica: No
Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa: No
Sen. Ted Gaines, R-El Dorado Hills: Yes
Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton: Not voting
Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg: No
Sen. Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga (San Bernardino County): Yes
Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside: Not voting
Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley: Yes
Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford (Kings County): Not voting
Sen. Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont: Not voting
Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco: Yes

The Senate Committee's discussion began with Senator Wiener presenting his case and the benefits of the bill. Wiener argued the ambitious proposal was long overdue, given the state’s spiraling housing costs and freeways clogged with long-distance commuters who can’t afford to live near their jobs. "SB 827 promotes exactly the kind of housing that we need."

The San Francisco Chronicle reported; "He (Wiener) took aim at  Beverly Hills and Marin County, saying they opposed his bill because it would remove an obstacle that wealthy cities use to keep new housing out of their communities."

Then, each Senator gave reasons for his/her vote.  

Senator Beall (D-San Jose) stated that it didn't make sense to plan housing near bus services that are not permanent and recounted a personal story about how his father sold his car with the intention of relying on the bus to get to work, but then the bus route was eliminated.  Beall was also concerned about the bill's impact on social justice.

Senator Roth (D-Riverside) said; 'My challenge, frankly, is the one-size-fits-all approach to the bill."  Senator Dodd (D-Napa) stated something similar; "The bill isn't flexible enough." and doesn't work for small cities.  

Senator Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) indicated it was poor city planning to have long corridors of dense housing.  He added; "It doesn't make sense to dole out development near non-permanent bus routes."  Allen also stated; "Density doesn't bring affordable housing. Just look at Manhattan" and the bill doesn't include historical preservation.

Senator Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton) relayed that the bill didn't address the needs of her area, which is housing-rich and jobs-poor, the exact opposite of what San Francisco (Wiener's district) is facing.

Senator Mike McGuire (D-Marin, Sonoma) (our representative) gave a number of reasons for opposing the bill: "The affordable housing provisions are not strong enough."; "The bill needs stronger anti-displacement protections."; The bill weakens CEQA and the ability to analyze impacts; Cities need at least 5 years to plan for increased density; and Smaller cities with poor transit need more parking.   I believe (not certain) he added that housing density around fixed transit stops and ferry terminals makes sense but dense housing around unpredictable bus service does not.

Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), who voted in favor of the bill, said; "If we don't build more housing we will never get the cost of housing down."

Many of the Senators (including Senator McGuire) who opposed the bill, prefaced their remarks by thanking Senator Wiener for his persistence and bringing an important topic to the limelight. They also expressed that they look forward to working with him on another bill to solve the housing crisis.  Some senators said they liked the idea of housing density near public transportation but the details of the bill were wrong.

Acknowledging probable defeat, Senator Wiener expressed; "Whatever happens today, we're going to keep working." "This issue isn't going away.  This bill isn't going away."

Here's Senator Scott Wiener's statement regarding his loss:
At the end of the hearing, Wiener asked for reconsideration and Chair Beall granted it without amendments. 

According to Michelle Pariset (Public Advocates Staff); " 'Reconsideration without amendments' means that Wiener can bring the bill up again for another vote but he can't do it with amendments. Wiener would need to flip enough votes before next Tuesday's (4/24) Transportation and Housing Committee meeting to move the bill. Then he'd need to ask for and receive a rules waiver to be heard the very next day (Wednesday 4/25) in the Senate Governance and Finance Committee. He'd need to have enough "yay" votes in the Senate Governance and Finance Committee, which is chaired by McGuire who's not going to flip. Friday (4/27) is the policy committee deadline for fiscal bills. This scenario is highly unlikely but it's possible."

For more details, please follow the below links to read pertinent articles.

Thank you to everyone who spread the word about the issue, met with representatives, sent letters, signed the petition, made calls to the Senators and went to Sacramento to attend the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee meeting.  Your advocacy made a difference! 


"Major California housing bill dies in committee meeting" by Katy Murphy, The Mercury News:

"Bill pushing apartments and condos near public transit loses crucial vote" by Melody Gutierrez, San Francisco Chronicle:
California plan linking new housing to public transit rejected by state lawmakers by Liam Dillon, LA Time

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