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SB 50: As Housing Crisis Continues, Senator Weiner Announces Revised Upzoning Legislation

December 14, 2018

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Last week, State Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) announced new legislation intended to immediately encourage more residential construction in areas near public transit and job centers. Entitled the More Housing, Opportunity, Mobility, Equity and Stability (More HOMES) Act, SB 50 is essentially version 2.0 of SB 827, a similar housing bill proposed by Senator Weiner that failed in committee earlier this year.

Like its unsuccessful predecessor, SB 50’s chief mechanism is exempting development projects in transit-oriented neighborhoods from typical local land use restrictions on building height and density. In addition, SB 50 expands the scope of SB 827’s exemption, covering not only neighborhoods in close proximity to public transit but also those with substantial job opportunities—deemed "job-rich." The bill also proposes reducing or eradicating minimum parking requirements.

While the bill’s most newsworthy elements relate to this mandated "upzoning," developers and renters alike should take note of certain provisions that will affect proposed projects if the bill becomes law. For example, the proposed height and density exemption would take the form of an "equitable communities incentive"—a project-specific waiver of local restrictions on those aspects of development. In addition, projects within the designated zones would be entitled to up to three additional incentives or concessions under the Density Bonus Law, as determined by local governments. With these provisions, the bill’s authors—which include state senators and assembly members from throughout Northern and Southern California—have made efforts to preserve local government involvement while still overriding restrictive zoning regulations that over many years have contributed to California’s severe housing shortage.

The legislation also allows local agencies to retain their community engagement and design review processes, and any local requirements for on-site affordable housing that exceed those contained in SB 50 will remain in place. In jurisdictions that don’t have inclusionary or affordable housing requirements, compliance with SB 50's proposed percentages—which have not yet been finalized—will be required.

The future of SB 50 remains uncertain, with many of the same criticisms made of SB 827—principally, loss of local control over development—likely to be directed toward the new bill. However, the prospects for its passage have clearly improved, with the mayors of large cities like San Francisco, Oakland, and Sacramento offering early support. Elements such as a 5-year delayed implementation in designated “sensitive communities” and a carve-out for properties either recently or currently being rented are intended to preempt criticisms that the measure would displace vulnerable residents and hasten gentrification.

While by no means a sure thing, SB 50 represents a promising legislative effort to allow increased development where it’s most needed. Hanson Bridgett will be closely tracking its progress, in order to provide you with the most up-to-date information on California housing and development policy. 

Please contact our land use attorneys should you have any questions or wish to learn more.

For more information, please contact:

Kristina Lawson

925-746-8474 Direct Phone
925-746-8494 Fax

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Robia Crisp

415-995-5806 Direct Phone
415-995-3455 Fax

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Nicholas Moore

415-995-5078 Direct Phone
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