Everyone in California knows we need to build housing. The question is how to do it. State Senator Scott Wiener has introduced SB 827, which he claims will lower housing costs while also getting people out of cars and onto transit. How will this happen? By overriding local zoning and allowing developers to build more dense residential projects near rail and bus stops.
The problem is, approval of SB 827 would just be doubling down on an approach that has already failed miserably.
Under SB 827, projects within 1/2 mile of a major transit stop or 1/4 mile of a stop on a high-quality transit corridor would be exempt from local zoning requirements, including controls on residential density and floor area ratio (FAR), maximum height limitations, and existing design standards. According to Wiener, not only will this produce much-needed housing, it will also increase transit ridership and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
But for years now cities in the LA area have been upzoning parcels near transit to allow high-density development. And what are the results? Housing prices are higher than ever, and transit ridership is lower than it was 30 years ago.
SB 827 is a sweeping assault on local planning control. It effectively shuts the public out of the decision-making process for projects near transit stops.
If you believe communities should have a voice in planning for future growth, please sign UN4LA's petition expressing our strong opposition to SB 827.
Petition: Oppose SB 827
You can read the bill for yourself by clicking on the link below.
SB 827: Planning and Zoning: Transit-Rich Housing Bonus
And you can read our response here.
SB 827: Sacramento Pushes to Override Local Planning
Wiener tells us that SB 827 will solve our problems by giving developers more freedom to build. But LA has been upzoning parcels near transit since the early years of the last decade, and it hasn't solved anything. This drive to increase density without comprehensive planning has not resulted in lower housing prices or higher transit ridership.
But let's get specific about SB 827's shortcomings....
One of Wiener's key claims in pushing this legislation is that it will get people out of cars and onto trains and busses. But what evidence has he given to support this claim? In fact, cities in LA County and the Bay Area have been approving higher, denser projects near transit for years, and yet ridership is declining. In LA the number of people taking transit is less than it was 30 years ago, in spite of continued population growth and billions invested in new rail. A recent report from UCLA shows that car ownership is higher than ever. And as for the Bay Area, Vital Signs, a web site that provides regional transit info, says that per capita transit ridership has declined by 11% since 1991. To be successful, transit-oriented development requires careful planning, not the kind of reckless upzoning that has become common practice in our urban areas.
SB 827 has been met with strong opposition from many housing advocates who fear it will bring more gentrification and displacement. Recently Wiener added some amendments intended to respond to those concerns. Unfortunately, for the most part Wiener's amendments simply maintain existing local laws regarding displacement. Anybody who's been following the news knows that the laws we currently have on the books have not been effective in protecting tenants from eviction. Speculative development has ravaged communities by promoting gentrification. Wiener's bill does a lot to help real estate investors, while doing very little to protect renters.
What about providing necessary infrastructure for all this increased density? Proponents claim that tax revenue from new development will cover the cost. Really? Over the last few years the City of LA has seen a significant increase in revenue, but it still can't balance its budget. Roads are in terrible shape, and the City is struggling to maintain them. It took a lawsuit to force City Hall to create a plan to fix sidewalks. The DWP recently asked for a large rate hike to cover the cost of maintaining our aging water system, which will be further strained by more high-density development.
Everybody seems to agree that the LAPD is understaffed, but hiring more officers is no simple task. The Department has the money to put more cops on the street, but has had trouble in recent years finding qualified recruits, so new tax revenue won't solve the problem. The LAFD recently embarked on a structural reorganization to try to improve emergency response times that have been lagging for years. And SB 827 says nothing about providing schools, libraries, parks and hospitals to serve new growth.
One of the most disturbing things about SB 827 is the fact that it prevents citizens from engaging in planning for their communities. Any project that qualifies under the bill will be approved "by-right", meaning that people living in the neighborhood will have no chance to voice their concerns, and local elected officials will be powerless to intervene. Any community near major transit corridors would see significant upzoning with no debate over possible impacts.
Scott Wiener wants us to believe that this bill will fix California's housing problems. Don't buy it. SB 827 is a con, not a cure.