Senate Bill 827
In mid-April, the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee voted to kill Senate Bill (SB) 827. The bill lost four votes to six.
The controversial bill sought to address California’s affordable housing crisis by easing local land-use controls and directing new, high-density housing development along transit lines.
While the intent of the bill was good, it was highly problematic due to its blunt, one-size-fits-all approach.
If passed, the bill would have automatically increased zoning densities and building heights for residential developments within a specific distance from certain types of major transit. It posed a significant and immediate threat to older and historic neighborhoods by circumventing local planning laws, and by exempting parts of development projects from discretionary review.
The Conservancy and others who came out in opposition believed the bill, as written, would have had dramatic unintended consequences, including curtailing transit infrastructure investments and expansion, incentivizing and increasing the speculative value of land near transit, and displacing low-income residents in existing rental units. Most importantly, the bill would potentially have destroyed the character and livability of entire older and historic neighborhoods.
We expect a version of this bill to return in the 2019 legislative session, and we will continue to monitor this issue.
In January 2018, Senator Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced Senate Bill 827 (SB 827). Following some amendments, the bill was ultimately rejected in a vote by the Transportation and Housing Committee. SB 827 generated heated discussion across California and especially throughout Greater Los Angeles.
At its essence, SB 827 sought to automatically increase zoning densities and building heights for “transit-rich” housing projects along “high-quality” transit lines.
The bill had defined a transit-rich housing project as “a residential development project the parcels of which are all within a half-mile radius of a major transit stop or a quarter-mile radius of a stop on a high-quality transit.” High-quality transit lines include corridors with bus services that have no more than fifteen-minute intervals during peak commute periods, which equates to large areas of nearly every city.
As a result, older single-family neighborhoods were ground zero for the bill, which instead favored an across-the-board increase in density and a height of up to eighty-five feet, depending on the width of the street.
This translates to an eight-story-high apartment building within a quarter-mile of a major transit stop or transit corridor, or a building of four-to-five stories within a half-mile of a major transit stop or a transit corridor.
While the intent may have been good, the bill was highly problematic. It posed a one-size-fits-all solution and a blunt, statewide fix that would outstrip local authority and planning. It also did not recognize the diversity of development statewide, let alone throughout Greater Los Angeles.
SB 827 lumped all cities together and ignored concerted efforts some are making to provide affordable housing through thoughtful planning efforts. The bill ignored the strides cities are making in allowing for increased density and implementing new tools and recently enacted statewide legislation, such as Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs).
If enacted, the bill would have posed a significant and immediate threat to older and historic neighborhoods. It would have circumvented local planning laws and up-zoned large swaths of land.
It also would have exempted parts of projects from discretionary review, even those currently afforded protection and design review through local historic districts (Historic Preservation Overlay Zone HPOZ in Los Angeles) and other forms of overlay zoning. The vast majority of older neighborhoods would have been at serious risk.
Opposition to SB 827 far outweighed support, including from the League of California Cities, the Coalition for Economic Survival, the California Preservation Foundation, and many other local, regional, and statewide groups that expressed strong concerns about the bill.
In March 2018, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to oppose the bill. The Conservancy spoke in opposition to the current version of the bill at the hearing.
Throughout California and Greater Los Angeles, we need to provide increased density and transit-oriented development that also offers high-quality and affordable housing. Yet as written, SB 827 was the wrong tool for the job.