Two state bills that would allow more housing density in transit corridors cleared their first legislative hurdles this week, though each proposal will likely see significant changes before it becomes law.
Senate Bill 50, a proposal by Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, that would require cities to relax height, density and parking restrictions in "transit-rich" and "jobs-friendly" areas advanced on Tuesday when the Senate Housing Committee, which Wiener chairs, voted 9-1-1 to move the legislation forward.
Just after that vote, the committee voted to advance a different housing plan from Sens. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, and Jim Beall, D-San Jose. Known as Senate Bill 4, the legislation would increase height limits in cities with 50,000 or more residents and relax parking requirements within half a mile of rail stations and ferry terminals.
Under SB 4, housing developments near transit areas in these cities will be able to have one story of height beyond what is currently zoned, as well as density bonuses.
"For example, if you live in a community that allows for three stories, you'd automatically receive a fourth story by right and a maximum build-out on that lot, within half a mile of a passenger rail line or ferry terminal," McGuire said at the April 2 hearing.
Unlike with SB 50, which would apply to all jurisdictions, SB 4 would have different criteria for large and small cities. For those with populations of 100,000 or more, there would be no parking requirements within a quarter mile of rail and a ratio of 0.5 spaces per unit between a quarter mile and half a mile from the transit area. For cities with fewer than 100,000 residents, the parking requirement would be 0.5 spaces per unit within half a mile (there would be no total waiver of parking requirements within a quarter mile of transit stops).
Another difference between the two bills is that SB 4 would only apply to jurisdictions that have built fewer homes than jobs in the past decade, while SB 50 would cover all cities and towns. And while SB 50 also provides incentives for housing near "high-quality bus corridors," SB 4 only provides building incentives in areas near rail and ferry terminals and exempts site in architectural or historically significant historic districts, coastal zones, flood plains and "fire hazard severity zones."
Though it largely focuses on transit corridors, SB 4 has one provision that is not tied to transportation at all. If it passes, fourplexes would be allowed "by right" at vacant parcels in cities with populations greater than 50,000. In smaller cities, duplexes would be allowed by right.
The bill, which McGuire said covers "90 percent of the state" advanced on Tuesday by an 8-1 vote. Wiener and McGuire had abstained from voting on each other's bills and agreed to work together in the weeks to come to reach a compromise solution. Both bills are set to go to the Senate Governance and Finance Committee on April 24.
In introducing SB 4, McGuire said the legislation advances "thoughtful strategies" that will help address the state's housing shortage. Echoing an often-repeated criticism of SB 50, McGuire said that a "blanket one-size-fits-all approach" does not work when it comes to housing solutions.
Much like Wiener's bill, SB 4 would have an "inclusionary housing" provision, requiring new developments that receive height and density concessions to designate some of their units as below-market-rate housing.
The April 24 meeting will take place almost exactly a year after the Housing Committee voted to reject Wiener's prior proposal to encourage more housing near transit. Known as SB 827, that bill died in the committee by a 4-6 vote, with both McGuire and Beall voting against it. Now, the legislators are hoping to reach a compromise that each side can support and that can win over the rest of their colleagues in the Legislature as well as Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has made housing one of his top priorities identified during his "State of the State" address.
While the legislation is still set for revisions, Wiener called the Tuesday vote on SB 50 an "important step toward addressing California's severe housing crisis."
"We need bold ideas that will have a real impact on our 3.5 million home deficit," Wiener said in a statement after the vote. "SB 50, in combination with other strong housing proposals, will help move the dial.
"California's housing shortage is threatening our environment, economy, diversity and quality of life. We must reform how we approach housing and, once and for all, elevate housing to a top priority."
Learn more about state bills on housing currently working their way through the Legislature by watching the April 5 episode of "Behind the Headlines," now available on our YouTube channel and podcast page.