California Housing Reform Goes Into Suspended Animation
NIMBYs Win A Battle, But Trench Warfare Continues
A high-profile bill that would have increased home building near mass transit and in single-family home neighborhoods across California has been killed for the year, ending a major battle over how to address the state’s housing affordability crisis that has attracted attention nationwide.
Senate Bill 50 by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) would have required cities to allow four- to five-story apartment complexes near rail stations and four or more homes on land zoned only for single-family homes across Los Angeles, San Francisco, Silicon Valley and much of the rest of California.
The measure would have radically altered the state’s growth patterns to direct significant new development toward urban areas, something the bill’s backers said was necessary to make housing more affordable and to meet the state’s goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
But opponents of the legislation argued that changes under SB 50 would have unalterably diminished the quality of life in many California neighborhoods dominated by single-family home development. Others against the bill worried that its efforts to spur building would displace low-income residents already threatened by the state’s high housing costs.
State Senator Anthony Portantino (D-La Canada) whom I know and have a lot of respect for, suspended the bill because it will allow the construction of multifamily units in single-family areas. That’s the whole point: preserving single-family neighborhoods as wholly single-family neighborhoods means either that 1) we don’t solve the housing crisis; or 2) we do so by sprawling out further and worsening climate change. If the opposition simply says, “no changes to single-family neighborhoods,” as Los Angeles NIMBY-In-Chief Councilmember Paul Koretz insists, then they are effectively saying, “I’ve got mine, and who cares about the rest of you.”
One provision of the amended bill that I particularly liked allowed building quadruplexes in single-family zones (although not tearing down single-family homes to build them: you have to either add on or do it in an empty lot). This might be a way to square the circle of people fearing “Manhattanization,” which had nothing to do with this bill, but was an easy argument for NIMBYs and demagogues like the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.