State Sen. Scott Wiener and his legislation to build much-needed housing across the state by undermining local control of California’s cities and counties have been sent back to the drawing board.
His bill, despite many amendments, didn’t make it through the Senate’s committee process, having been set aside as a two-year bill.
Often, that’s a kindly legislative kiss of death.
But Wiener’s bill’s stated intention of facilitating construction of more housing is vitally important to California. At this point, the San Francisco lawmaker needs to refocus the legislation from being essentially Sacramento’s top-down edict, to making it easier for local governments to focus on and foster construction of more housing.
There are a lot of obstacles. Costs for a multi-layer planning process, hefty charges for water and sewer hook-ups and local political opposition to development are among those challenges.
Wiener’s original bill took a sledge hammer to some of those, streamlining the public review process and eliminating local zoning laws that dictate what could be built where.
For instance, Wiener’s bill amounts to a Sacramento-ordered green light for construction of four- and five-story multifamily housing complexes near major transit stops.
It was a developer’s dream come true.
State Sen. Mike McGuire, who represents Marin, was able to persuade Wiener to accept some changes that reduced the density requirements for smaller counties and cities, but the bill was still a work in progress and flawed, not in general intent, but in strategy.
Wiener’s bill was not much of a guarantee that the changes would lead to construction of the affordable housing California needs. In many parts of the state, the amount of housing that’s built has little to do with making it more affordable.
In Marin, and across the Bay Area, that’s the gap that needs to be closed.
The state has housing quotas for every city, town and county.
Those quotas need to be much more than a bureaucratic exercise and more a community objective for each municipality to do its job trying to strike a balance when it comes to building affordable housing. The quotas need to be realistic, acknowledging that many communities are mostly built-out, without much acreage for possible residential development.
Putting reasonable limits on the public planning process and governmental charges could help reduce hefty front-end costs that often stand in the way of affordable housing plans.
Wiener’s stated goal is to create a process for construction of the housing California needs. Unfortunately, his legislation’s strategy was to erode local control. Municipalities need to do the right thing while making their own decisions regarding location and size.
Having the bill set aside as a two-year bill should be accepted as a challenge to rewrite the legislation in a way that doesn’t have Sacramento re-zoning local lands, instead making municipalities more accountable for their efforts — or lack thereof — getting affordable housing built. The construction of affordable housing needs to be a front-burner priority for every town, city and county.
City and county officials need to be committed to that important goal if they are to be effective in improving the legislation.
This legislation shouldn’t be about telling small towns and less populated counties that they need to embrace planning that is a better fit in larger counties and metropolitan cities. Suburbs and rural towns need to make room for building their regional fair share of housing, but not by Sacramento mandating zoning changes.
This is a problem that needs a solution that evolves from the state working with local governments, large and small. Postponing action on Wiener’s legislation opens the door to much better solutions than those advanced by the lawmaker.