Transit-Oriented Development Bill Gains Steam in California

Transit-Oriented Development Bill Gains Steam in California

State Senate Panel Approves Bill Aimed at Boosting Affordable Housing

BY LOU HIRSH (via CoStar Group)

California's Senate Bill 50 calls for changes in density, parking requirements and other matters aimed at boosting the supply of affordable rental housing near transit hubs. Photo: Toshi, via Flickr

California’s Senate Bill 50 calls for changes in density, parking requirements and other matters aimed at boosting the supply of affordable rental housing near transit hubs. Photo: Toshi, via Flickr

California legislation aimed at boosting the amount of affordable apartments by easing height and density limits near transit hubs won key state Senate panel approval with the addition of limits on its effects on smaller counties and the coastline of the nation’s most-populous state.

The measure – like similar hotly debated proposals such as rent control – is among several being considered in states including California, Colorado and New York to deal with the chronic problem of housing affordability amid skyrocketing rents in major cities.

Known as Senate Bill 50, the proposal by California state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, was passed 6-1 by the Governance and Finance Committee, which was deemed a major hurdle for the bill. It’s scheduled to be taken up next by the Senate’s Appropriations Committee, and it needs approval from the full state Legislature as well as the governor before becoming law.

Wiener said SB 50 would create new zoning standards for construction of apartments and high-density housing near job centers and public transportation statewide, while protecting against displacement of renters and “vulnerable communities” living in those areas. It would eliminate “hyper-low-density” zoning near transit and job centers and also reduce or eliminate minimum parking requirements for new developments.

“SB 50 will help ensure that future generations are able to live in California, will help combat climate change by getting people out of their cars and onto public transit and will create more equitable communities by allowing affordable housing to be built in neighborhoods with good schools and public investment,” Wiener said in a statement following the committee vote this week.

The bill has generated criticism among opponents contending it could usurp cities’ rights to define housing standards near transit hubs. Another statewide high-density housing bill, known as SB 827, proposed by Wiener died last year in a senate committee.

Committee approval came after Wiener and panel Chairman Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, agreed to fold in portions of another transit-oriented development bill by McGuire, known as Senate Bill 4. McGuire is now a co-sponsor of SB 50 and SB 4 will not move forward.

Among changes in the combined bill, SB 50 now includes provisions to identify “sensitive communities” where new laws would apply. That includes areas designated as having high levels of segregation, poverty and low access to community resources, based on census and other data. The revised bill exempts coastal zones in cities with populations less than 50,000 and new standards would apply only to infill parcels within coastal zones regardless of city size.

The bill provides stricter rules in the state’s largest 15 counties including Los Angeles.

Supporters of SB 50 include the mayors of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento, San Jose and Stockton, along with several business organizations such as the California Chamber of Commerce, the State Building and Construction Trades Council, California Apartment Association and California Association of Realtors.

According to the California Housing and Community Development Department, a dearth of new housing construction, relative to rising demand, has compounded over the last several decades into what is now a shortage of at least 3.5 million homes that are affordable to working families.