Tuesday, December 4, 2018

More HOMES Near Transit Lines

Hello Everyone:

The cold dry weather continues chill sunny Los Angeles.  Never one to let cold weather or rain get in the way, Blogger is here to chat about a new bill that was introduced in the California state senate. Before we get to the subject at hand, The Candidate Forum wants to let you all know that it will be back tomorrow to try to make sense of the latest developments in the special counsel's investigation in Russian meddling in the 2016 elections and her emails.  Onward

Transportation and housing are two of the biggest challenges facing Governor-elect Gavin Newsom. The roads are congested, "the rent's too damn high," and public transportation still out of reach for people living in outlying areas.  However, new bill before the state senate attempts to incentivize new residential construction new transit lines.

Yesterday, State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced Senate Bill 50 (leginfo.legislature.ca.gov; Dec. 3, 2018; date accessed Dec. 4, 2018) known More Housing, Opportunity, Mobility, Equity and Stability Act.  The bill comes several months after a previous attempt died in committee (citylab.com; Apr. 18, 2018; Dec. 4, 2018). Dubbed More HOMES, SB 50 is co-sponsored by State Senators Ben Hueso, Ann's Bacallero, Nancy Skinner, and John Moorlach as well as Assemblymemebers Autumn Burke, Buffy Wicks, Phil Ting, Ash Kalra, Evan Low, Kevin Riley, and Robert Rivas.

More HOMES was informed by the unceremonious death of  its predecessor SB 827, whose primary aim was "facilitating extensive transit-oriented development (TOD) statewide.  "The bill would preempt local zoning regulations near public transit routes, permitting the construction of mid-rise housing within a half-mile of rail and bus lines" (urbanize.la; Feb. 1, 2018; Dec. 4, 2018). This bill was roundly criticized as one size fits all approach to zoning (Ibid; Dec. 4, 2018), More HOMES is being touted as a "less heavy-handed, creating an 'equitable communities incentive' that supersede local, restrictions on a project-by-project basis, much in the vein of the California's existing density bonus law and Los Angeles' Transit Oriented Community program [Ibid: Sept. 22, 2017].  Steven Sharp writes in his Urbanize Los Angeles article "California State Senator Introduces New Bill to Boost Housing Construction Near Transit," "The revived effort also takes more care to address the concerns of communities fearing displacement and gentrification, the initial lack of which contributed to SB 827's early demise" (Ibid; Dec. 4, 2018).

Senator Wiener released the following statement,

We must take bold steps now to address out sever housing crisis and reduce our carbon footprint,... California's housing shortage hurts our most vulnerable communities, working families, young people, our environment, and our economy.... we have created sprawl by artificially limiting the number of homed that are built near transit and job centers. As a result of this restrictive zoning in urbanized areas, people are forced into crushing commutes, which undermines our climate goals,.... As educational and economic opportunities become increasingly concentrated in an near urban areas, we must ensure all of our residents are able to access opportunities.... (Ibid)

If More HOMES becomes law, it would permit the construction apartments near high-quality transit--ie within a half mile of rail line or a quarter-mike of a bus stop with frequent service--in employment rich areas as identified  by the Department of Housing and Community Development and the Office of Planning and Research. Mr. Sharp reports, "Developments located within a half-mile radius of a transit stop, but outside of a quarter-mile radius, would be eligible for waivers from height limits less than 45 feet FAR [floor-area ratio] limit of 2.5-to-1.  Developments located within a quarter-mile radius of a transit stop would be eligible for waivers for height requirements under 55 feet and FAR limits of 3.25-to-1" (Ibid). This translates into four- to five-story buildings.  

The projects would be accomplished by mandating the local land use agency (city or county) "to grant an equitable communities incentive to projects that meet the above criteria" (Ibid). This would include waiver of maximum density controls and car park requirements greater than .5 spaces per unit, and no more than here additional incentives or concessions from the current density law.  Municipalities would be free to modify their implementation of the proposed program, as long as it remains consistent with the spirit of More HOMES.

This differs from the ill-fated SB 827 which only provided additional tenent protection and affordable housing requirements following introduction, SB 50 starts with a similar set of provisions.

Steven Sharp reports, "Sites occupied by tenants within seven years preceding the date of application--including housing that has been demolished or vacated prior to application--would be ineligible for the incentives, as would properties in which tenants have been evicted through Ellis Act within the past 15 years" (Ibid). 

Further, "...applicant seeking equitable community incentives for a development would be required to provide affordable housing at either the low-, very low-, or extremely low-income levels set under the State density bonus law" (Ibid). 

Including job-rich communities in the new bill is a response to the critics of SB 827, who argued that "most transit-rich areas are working-class neighborhoods vulnerable to displacement" (medium.com; Mar. 2, 2017; date accessed Dec. 4, 2018). Under the proposed law, "equitable communities incentives would be available to properties in these job-rich areas--with access to high-quality amenities and schools--even without the presence of rail or high-frequency bus lines" (urbanize.la; Dec. 4, 2018). 

The more murky element of SB 50 is the delayed implementation in sensitive communities, "defined as those vulnerable to displacement pressure based on indicators such a d percentage of tenant households living at or under the regional poverty line" (Ibid; Dec. 4, 2018). The delayed implementation of SB 50 would allow for the community-level planning process to create zoning ordinances and additional policies that encourage apartment developments. What is unclear is what form and fashion these ordinances will take. 

In another response to critics who argue for more local control, "SB 50 would not alter any jurisdiction's current community engagement and design review process, nor would it change any labor or employment standards for new construction" (Ibid; Dec. 4, 2018). Any current housing demolition ban would remain intact, in accordance with California's Housing Accountability Act, and municipal governments would retain the right to establish height limits for new housing outside the perimeters of areas with rail transit access.

Similarly, "any local requirements for on-site affordable housing that exceed those proposed in SB 50 would be honored" (Ibid; Dec. 4, 2018).  This would also apply for any local program that encourages new housing development near transit--like the Transit Oriented Communities guidelines in Los Angeles--and would render a project ineligible for the equitable communities incentives. 

The timing of More HOMES comes as California finds itself with an "estimated shortage of 3.5 million homes" (Ibid; Dec. 4, 2018) and calls for Governor-elect Newsom to narrow the gap (sacbee.com; Aug. 15, 2018; date accessed Dece. 4, 2018). Supporters of the bill note that the recent wildfires have only made the problem worse (they have) and posit that the remedy is encouraging more development in the urban cores, rather than he suburban fringe.

Yours Truly has a different idea.  Rather than just build more new apartments in the urban core, why not take steps to preserve what is already there.  Unfortunately, there are private landlords who take advantage of the Ellis Act, opt-out of the rental market, and either sell their building to a developer or turn it into an AirBnB.  As for he environmental argument: SB 50 would be an opportunity "...to reduce the state's carbon footprint by shortening commutes and encouraging transit use"...(Ibid; Dec. 4, 2018). Recent findings by the California Air Resource Board (latimes.com; Nov. 26, 2018; date accessed Dec, 4, 2018) say that "the state will fall short of its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2030 unless it's residents dramatically reduce vehicle travel" (urbanize.la; Dec. 4, 2018).

The new session opens in January and this bill has a fighting chance.  

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