By Diana Diamond
Do we really have a housing crisis?Uploaded: Sep 23, 2021
The repeated refrain these past several years: We have a housing crisis in town -- we have to build more housing units so more people can live in our fair cities.
Most of our local officials agree. Forget about more offices -- we need housing -- particularly, affordable housing, they say.
Enter SB 9 and 10, senate bills that are a dramatic statewide override of local city zoning control in order to provide more housing units in California. Together, they will allow single-family property owners to divide their lots into two -- and build two new units on each half. In other words, four units per lot -- and in some cases, eight units. This bill trumps any current zoning for the property, such as an R-1, that allows only single-family zoning on a given area. State Senators Scott Wiener and Toni Atkins sponsored the bills, and they were supported by local Assemblyman Marc Berman and state Senator Josh Becker. Becker voted for SB 9 but abstained from voting for SB 10 and did not support it, according to his staff
SB 10 grants local city councils the power to overturn voter-approved land-use initiatives. It overrides a city's single-family zooning, requires no environmental review, nor public hearings.
Sure doesn't sound very democratic to me!
These bills may be well-intended, as in yes, we need more housing, because to date, local cities aren't cooperating as much as state legislatures wanted. ABAG (Association of Bay Area Governments) has demanded that cities must build a certain number of new units, based on the jobs/housing ratio in their town. Palo Alto has high number of jobs due to Stanford University, its two hospitals, and the Research Park. Atherton, despite one-acre-plus housing lots, is not required to build such housing, because the city has few jobs. This imbalance concept, in my estimation, has been unfair from its beginning. For example, Stanford hospitals serve a regional area, not just Palo Alto. But because it's located here, the city must build more housing to attain a balance.
These bills also are a huge gift to developers -- they will be able to build and build.
One prevailing want-more-housing attitude has been here for a while. When former mayor Adrian Fine was in office, he said (paraphrased) that he wanted a city where everyone who wants to, can move here, and find housing immediately, whether that person came from New York, Chicago or Maine. However, in the limited amount of vacant space that Palo Alto has, that's not a possibility.
The other idea says that high-rise and small lots are the future of our city. Accept it. I am not sure I can. Must that happen? I like our suburban environs.
My overall question is do we really have a housing crisis? Obviously, locally there is not enough low-priced housing in our towns, but nearly 48 percent of housing units in Palo Alto are rentals -- many to Stanford students. So, it's not like all of us here live in huge homes. And if we want to have more housing, why not build apartments closer to the Baylands -- like on Palo Alto's golf course.? Yes, we would lose one of our sporting treasures, but isn't that better than losing our neighborhoods?
My other problem is SB 9 and 10 allow high density next to your and my homes -- and up to eight hogh-riseunits on a parcel of land. Sounds like mixed-up neighborhoods. Yes, in this instance, you can call me a NIMBY.
The law requires a limit on the number of parking spots that would be required on a four-unit parcel. But if the units are located less than a half mile from public transportation -- a bus stop or a train station -- then spots for cars to park are not required.
There is a weird presumption in that section of the law -- that cars are only used to get to work
But what about needing a car to buy groceries, see doctors, or take kids to school daily? If there's no parking provision for the lot I live on, then what do I do? Unclear whether a couple could have two cars.
Here are some other problems:
• During this drought season, we've all become conscious about our water use. But if you have four units on a lot, presumably then four times more water will be needed. What do we do about that?
• And of course, these new rezoning units will have parents with children. How will our schools be affected? Can they handle an annual influx of new students? Will we have to build more schools?
• Are these smaller housing units and divided lots desirable? f developers build them on spec, will they survive and thrive in the marketplace? If they remain empty after they are on the market, what will that mean? And how costly will these empty small units be for developers?
Just questions, and I don't have solid answers for them yet. But SB 9 and 10 are just one way of trying to solve the housing problem, and they haves a lot of kinks in them. What measures we hurriedly adopt can drastically change the local ambience and character of our communities.
Rushing to have suburban neighborhoods change in a dramatic, and to me draconian, way, should not be the solution.