As housing bills advance, critics and advocates amplify debate | July 23, 2021 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - July 23, 2021

As housing bills advance, critics and advocates amplify debate

Palo Alto opposes SB 9 and SB 10, which are moving through state Assembly

by Gennady Sheyner

After a series of crushing defeats in the 2020 legislative session, housing advocates are hoping for better luck next month, when state lawmakers return from their summer recess and take up the dozens of housing bills that are now advancing through the Capitol's labyrinthine process.

According to Palo Alto's lobbying firm in Sacramento, Townsend Public Affairs, there were 39 housing bills going through the Legislature this year, of which 34 made it past the first appropriation committee in their respective houses of the Legislature. These include two bills — Senate Bill 9 and Senate Bill 10 — that have garnered the lion's share of scorn and limelight among slow-growth groups and housing advocates, respectively. The list also includes dozens of other bills that aim to spur housing construction by removing zoning barriers and adding development concessions.

SB 290, which is authored by Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, falls into the latter camp. It grants density bonuses to developments that serve low-income students and moderate-income households. Housing developments that designate units for at least "moderate-income" residents and are within a half mile of major traffic stops, for example, would be allowed to provide less parking, while student housing developments in which at least 20% of the units are for lower-income students would become eligible for a zoning incentive or a concession.

Another bill, SB 6, would pave the way for housing developments to be permitted in areas that are zoned for office and retail use, provided these areas are not adjacent to industrial sites.

Authored by Sen. Anna Caballero, SB 6 requires the housing developments to comply with "all local zoning, parking, design, public notice or hearing requirements, local code requirements, ordinances and permitting procedures that apply in a zone that allows housing at the density required by this bill."

Both SB 290 and SB 6 have already cleared the Senate and are now going through the typical procession of Assembly committees, in route to an Assembly vote. The same holds true for SB 478, which is authored by Sen. Scott Wiener and which bans cities from imposing minimum lot-size requirements that are so large they effectively prohibit new housing. The bill received a boost earlier this month when the Assembly's Local Committee voted to advance it.

The bills have won plaudits from pro-housing groups like California YIMBY and its various local chapters, including Mountain View YIMBY. A letter of support from California YIMBY for SB 478 notes that the bill does not change design standards such as height setbacks but merely "puts important guardrails on design standards so that already-planned homes are not undermined by hyper-restrictive design rules."

Others are less sanguine about the bills' impacts. Community groups such as United Neighbors and Livable California have been taking out ads and holding forums to express their opposition to SB 478, SB 6 and other housing bills, with Livable California branding SB 6 as the "kill the mom and pops" bill because of its potential harm to small businesses.

Several cities have joined opposition. In early June, Cupertino submitted a letter opposing SB 478, which argued that the bill "extends well beyond the reach of land use issues for the state."

"What is appropriate for one community may not be appropriate for all communities, which is why land-use decisions, such as minimum lot sizes and FARs (floor-area ratios) are best decided at the local level. In some communities, the FARs suggested by this bill may be appropriate; however, they will not be appropriate in all communities," states the letter, which is signed by Cupertino Mayor Darcy Paul.

Few housing bills, however, remain as contentious as SB 9 and SB 10. The former, authored by Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins, would allow duplexes on any single-family lot. The latter, authored by Wiener, would give the cities the power to rezone parcels to allow up to 10 residential units, notwithstanding existing zoning restrictions adopted by the voters.

Palo Alto has come out against both bills. Its letter opposing SB 10 argues that the bill will do nothing for housing affordability and that "any housing that does emerge ends up housing only the highest wage earners, not those who need it most."

"In any case, SB 10's upzoning provisions are powers that we as local government already have; so, SB 10 provides no value," the letter signed by Mayor Tom DuBois states.

Palo Alto is hardly the only opponent of SB 10. At the June 30 meeting of the Assembly Local Government Committee, which voted to advance the bill, Redondo Beach Mayor Bill Brand suggested that the bill would circumvent the state's initiative process, which allows voters to make their laws directly.

"We may not like it, being legislators ourselves, but this form of direct democracy has been reserved in our state Constitution for over 100 years," Brand said.

Other opponents of SB 10 have pointed to voter initiatives that ensured that open space preserves would be maintained and wildlife protected. In a concession to these critics, Wiener has narrowed the parameters of the bill to explicitly exclude open spaces and greenbelt areas.

Wiener argued at the June 30 meeting that cities that oppose SB 10 are free to simply ignore its provisions.

"It gives cities a powerful new tool that they can use or not use so that if a city decides to rezone for small multiunit housing in one part of its city, on one block of its city, on one parcel, in its entire city, whatever they want," Wiener told the Assembly Local Government Committee shortly before the vote.

He noted that as long as development is proceeding in an "non-sprawl" manner — namely, as an infill development or near transit — the city can proceed with rezoning in an "expedited, streamlined way" under the proposed bill.

"We have cities in California right now that are literally incapacitated from adopting even a Housing Element, or doing any zoning work whatsoever," he said.

SB 9 also continues to polarize local residents and officials. A successor to SB 1120, which narrowly failed to advance in the frantic final hours of last year's legislative session, SB 9 cleared a major hurdle on June 22, when the Assembly's Housing and Community Development Committee voted to support it.

The bill's opponents, including Palo Alto, are preparing to increase their lobbying efforts in the coming month. In early June, the Cities Association of Santa Clara County became the latest group to publicly come out against SB 9. Its letter opposing the bill stated that cities "lay the groundwork for housing production by planning and zoning new projects in their communities based on extensive public input and engagement, state housing laws, and the needs of the building industry."

"While The Cities Association appreciates President pro Tempore Atkins' desire to pursue a housing production proposal, unfortunately, SB 9 as currently drafted will not spur much needed housing construction in a manner that supports local flexibility, decision making and community input," the letter states.

Email Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner at [email protected]


Posted by Eric Filseth
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 22, 2021 at 8:27 am

Eric Filseth is a registered user.

“Duplex” SB9 actually provides for 6 units per parcel not 2, after its lot-splitting provisions plus by-right ADU’s/JDU’s.

Even Plan Bay Area 2050 acknowledges that zoning actions impact only Market Rate housing, and not Affordable housing, which requires funding (Web Link What these bills do is battle over who controls local zoning – Sacramento, or local voters through their city councils? I thought Assemblyman Kevin Kiley’s SB9 remarks on the role of “Sacramento special interests” in this conflict (posted on a different thread) framed the contention with unusual candor.

SB10’s “overturn voter initiatives” provision actually takes the next step, bypassing city councils entirely and warring directly against voters themselves. It’s incomprehensible to me how any state legislator who represents the voter side in this battle could support such a notion; you might even be forgiven for interpreting it as a litmus test. Still, if Republican electeds try to suppress voter-initiatives in red states like Idaho (Web Link then blue states like California may not be immune either.

As the article points out, the other part of SB10, “Rezone R1 for 10-unit apartment buildings,” is authority that cities and their voters already have. When many of us saw that part, we wondered why it was there at all – distraction, maybe? But the Conspiracy Theory is that such “optional” measures, once law, will be followed by future legislation making those provisions effectively mandatory, as has arguably happened with RHNA. Some of these bills’ authors, and the “very powerful interests that have a lot of pull on both sides of the aisle frankly,” as Assemblyman Kiley put it, may play a long game with local voters.

Posted by Local Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 22, 2021 at 10:37 am

Local Resident is a registered user.

The weekly is incorrect to state SB9 allows 2 units per lot. It allows the lot to be split and a main house, ADU and JDADU to be built on each lot. This creating 6 units including 4 standalone units.

Posted by tmp
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 22, 2021 at 10:59 am

tmp is a registered user.

These housing bills are a distraction from the real governing that the state legislature should be doing. While they fiddle with cramming more people into urban areas they ignore the massive crises of drought, overpopulation, plastic pollution and failing infrastructure.

Members of the state house and senate are getting huge contributions from developers and builders to open doors to their massive developments that destroy quality of life and line the bay's shores with development, all at huge costs to residents. Meanwhile elected officials ignore the people who elected them by saddling us with more residents that will worsen our drought, energy problems and pollution issues.

My elected representatives for Palo Alto -Berman and Becker - have both voted to advance many of these awful housing bills and are doing nothing to support the environmental health of the state. I have contacted both of them and told them that I will never vote to reelect people who support the overdevelopment and destruction of the state and ignore more pressing issues. Please do the same. They are easy to find and e-mail online or easy to call and leave a message.

Posted by Joe Rolfe
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 22, 2021 at 4:49 pm

Joe Rolfe is a registered user.

By most measures housing is un-affordable for the majority of people living in the Bay Area. It seems clear that we either need more housing or fewer people. The various housing bills are an effort to produce more housing. Let’s do it and let the free market, we all are supposed to believe in, work.
We can also let the free market work in another way. All of the people who can’t afford housing can leave and take their jobs with them. This will not work either.
We need some attention to government policies that encourage housing. Maybe SB9 and SB10 are sincere efforts to approach the housing crises and should be considered and improved. The choices are more housing or fewer people. But I’m not really interested in living in Texas, Mississippi or even Florida.

Posted by Art Liberman
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 22, 2021 at 9:08 pm

Art Liberman is a registered user.

Local Assembly representative Marc Berman has been opaque when asked about these bills, avoiding making a clear statement and instead giving obtuse and anodyne comments. I suspect he will vote for both bills ( do you all remember as I do how many Real Estate groups sent out flyers on his behalf and spent money on his election campaign?) ,and if he does, we constituents should make short work of his political career.
The Los Altos Crier on July 14 had this statement about his position:
"Berman, a Democrat, has not announced a stance on either bill, but he says increasing Silicon Valley’s housing inventory is critical to keep up with the number of jobs supporting the tech industry. He characterizes the newly proposed legislation as a potential method for addressing the lack of both affordable, or subsidized, housing, and the lack of housing for middle-income workers who earn too much to qualify for economic assistance but not enough to afford a market-rate home."
Web Link

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 23, 2021 at 10:38 am

Online Name is a registered user.

"Local Assembly representative Marc Berman has been opaque when asked about these bills, avoiding making a clear statement and instead giving obtuse and anodyne comments."

"Opaque" is the polite term for Berman's evasion on this issue. I sat in on his Zoom meeting and first he excused his ignorance on the provisions of the bills on the grounds that he has to vote on 800 bills and can't be familiar with all of them, then he promised his legislative aide would review the claims AND refused to allow the ZOOM meeting to be recorded.

When confronted with the actual provisions of the housing bills, he was "surprised" but refused to say if the provisions would influence his vote.

He and Becker -- who "can't wrap his mind around the issues" -- are pathetic in their evasion and refusal to take this issue seriously and be honest about their positions.

Posted by Be realistic
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 23, 2021 at 3:51 pm

Be realistic is a registered user.

I attended that zoom meeting with Berman and agree with the assessment above.
If his claim of ignorance is true, that is hardly excusable with bills like these. SB 9 and 10 will override citizens' vote (!) in favor of real estate corporations and allow for developing open space. Those bills will decrease the number of homeowners who will have to start renting from mega-landlords. The price of land will increase according to the number of units increase. See the examples like Vancouver, London, and Hong Kong. The state of CA will become a Wild West for developers. Those bills are doing NOTHING to help building affordable housing. Housing will likely become more expensive due to the price of land going up (e.g. Vancouver).

Most likely, Berman knows the bills and is all in. See the comments above regarding the amount of money poured into his campaigns by developers. He was that way from when he was a PA CC member.

Becker, our new senator, also refused to have his zoom meeting recorded some time ago. When asked off record why he was not willing to share his views with his voters, the answer was "I am not interested in that; I am interested in my political career."

Posted by pat
a resident of Los Altos
on Jul 24, 2021 at 7:40 pm

pat is a registered user.

The word "duplex" does not appear in the SB9 text. The bill could actually allow up to 8 units on a split lot where only one home existed. See Web Link

The reasons to oppose these housing bills are obvious: No consideration and no funding for increased demand on schools, water (we’re in a mega-drought!), sewers (some already at capacity), power grid (recent brownouts), parks, traffic, parking, public safety personnel – or environmental impacts.

Neither SB9 nor SB10 mandates nor provides for AFFORDABLE housing, which is our greatest need. At a cost of $700,000/unit, developers aren’t going to build homes for clerks, teachers, service workers and emergency responders – all essential to our communities. In-lieu fees aren’t nearly enough for individual cities to cover costs of land and construction.

It should also be noted that just about every housing bill has language that overrides our state Constitution, e.g.,

- The California Constitution gives local government – the representatives you voted for – the right to “make and enforce all ordinances and regulations in respect to municipal affairs.” (Article XI, Section 5) SB9 and SB10 take away that right as it applies to housing and planning.

- Senate Constitutional Amendment 22 was passed to “enable the people … to reclaim legislative power” from special interests. It gives citizens the right to propose laws. SB10 takes away that right so Sacramento can dictate high density housing.

If these bills pass, the real winners will be developers and real-estate investors, who donate big bucks to state legislators.

Posted by ALB
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 26, 2021 at 4:40 pm

ALB is a registered user.

I agree with Online Name that Berman and Becker are more than EVASIVE on SB9 and SB10. In my opinion they are both in the pockets of investment firms, vc, developers and tech. The Democratic party is not the party of our parents. These politicians think they are always on the morally correct side of issues. Why did Becker write a health advisory with the CEO of El Camino Hospital? He is not a medical professional. It was to appear that he was doing the right thing in the eyes of his constituents or so he thinks. He could not "wrap his mind around" the issues pertaining to bills SB9 and SB10 when he spoke on a recent zoom with folks from his district. He was elected to serve his constituents. He like Berman is ambitious. Berman is a trust fund kid whose family owns significant real estate holdings. He was a major disappointment on the Palo Alto city council. Now he is intoxicated with his position and does not want to unsettle the feathers of his backers. He told the public that he has over three thousand bills to contend with and therefore he could not possibly be expected to know in detail SB9 and SB10 -- the very subjects of the zoom call he agreed to discuss. Both he and Becker have let down their constituents. Please remember their voting record in the next election.

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 27, 2021 at 8:48 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Good comment by prior mayor Greg Schmidt in the SJBAN Opinion section. The Manhattanization of Palo Alto is an awful idea as it discredits public opinion and consensus which is required by law. Over concentraion of people in a location will not produce good results. Densification of the population in a specific local area defies the ability to actually manage all of the requrements of sustainability.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

In order to encourage respectful and thoughtful discussion, commenting on stories is available to those who are registered users. If you are already a registered user and the commenting form is not below, you need to log in. If you are not registered, you can do so here.

Please make sure your comments are truthful, on-topic and do not disrespect another poster. Don't be snarky or belittling. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

See our announcement about requiring registration for commenting.

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Palo Alto Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.