Northern News

APA-CA-logo-no-tagline

A publication of the American Planning Association, California Chapter, Northern Section

Making great communities happen

Scott Wiener, in enemy territory, makes case for SB 50

By Gennady Sheyner, Palo Alto Weekly, June 7, 2019.

State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, went before an audience of 200 in Palo Alto on June 7 to “push back against the common narrative that the bill represents an attack on local control and assure residents that, despite a recent setback, the bill remains on track for passage.

“SB 50 hit a stumbling block last month, when the chairman of the state senate Appropriation Committee announced that the Legislature will not be taking up the bill until early 2020, at the earliest.

“Despite this decision by state Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, Wiener told the crowd he is confident that the bill will ultimately win passage after the legislature takes it up again early next year.

“ ‘The bill is alive and well,’ Wiener said, ‘and the leadership has made it crystal clear that the bill is going to move forward.’

“The bill, he said, largely defers to local height limits, though it waives local height limits below 45 feet within half a mile of transit hubs. The legislation also defers to local demolition, design, and historic standards. Wiener, who was a San Francisco supervisor before going to Sacramento, also said that as a former local official, he agrees with those who say local decision-making usually leads to better outcomes. But local control ‘is not biblical,’ Wiener said. It’s ‘a good thing when it leads to good results, and I would say our system of pure local control on housing has not led to good results. What we’re trying to do is a rebalancing, not to eliminate local control,’ Wiener said.

“Some in Palo Alto, including the mayor, had argued that area employers should be asked to do more to fix the housing shortage. But when asked whether the state should require tech companies to build more housing, Wiener pushed back: Even if lawmakers required tech giants like Facebook and Google to build housing (which, he noted, isn’t their area of expertise), that wouldn’t change the fact that existing zoning would make approval and construction of these units a slow and difficult process.

“ ‘I personally think we all caused this problem,’ Wiener said. ‘Tech didn’t create the land use rules, tech didn’t ban apartment buildings in 75 percent of California, tech didn’t say it should take five to 10 years to approve a project. Tech didn’t do any of those things. We did those things.’

“Los Altos resident Wesley Hemholtz argued that ‘one-size-fits-all’ is an unfair way to describe SB 50 and agreed with Wiener’s main point about the failures of local control. The existing system has left most families unable to afford housing, he said.

“ ‘It’s really not one-size-fits-all. It’s one-size-fits-the-appropriate situation,’ said Hemholz. ‘Near transit, these are the rules; near jobs, these are the rules. If you’re not near transit and not near jobs, you will not have [those] requirements imposed on you. But the current system of local control is sort of a one-size-fits-all statewide. And it hasn’t worked for 40 years.’ ”

The above is an excerpt. Read the full article here.