“Bill Could Add Millions of New Homes Next to California’s Public Transit Stations”

SF Business Times, January 5, 2018

California State Senator Scott Wiener proposed a trio of new housing bills on Thursday, including one that would make it easier to build taller projects near public transit.

Wiener (D-San Francisco)'s SB 827 calls for the statewide removal of single-family home and parking requirements for projects within a half-mile of transit hubs like BART, Muni and Caltrain stations.

The bill would mandate height limits of at least 45 feet to 85 feet for new projects, depending on how close they are to transit. Cities would be able to raise height limits beyond those minimums, and developers could also build smaller projects within the areas if they chose.

Consulting firm McKinsey previously estimated that 1.2 million to 3 million new homes could potentially be built statewide within a half mile of transit hubs. The state currently has 1.1 million units within a half mile of hubs.

Wiener said local restrictions on development exacerbated the housing shortage and led to record-high rents around the state. "It's gotten us into this mess," he said.

"I support and value local control," he said, but said there had to be "more of a balance" between state and city laws dictating development.

Wiener said the bill will likely be heard in committee by March. A vote could occur by the fall.

Most of San Francisco would be included under the proposed law, since Muni buses are present in every neighborhood. Land along BART stations and Caltrain stations throughout the East Bay, on the Peninsula and in SIlicon Valley would also qualify, according to a previous map by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

"It’s a great idea. It’s clear that what we’ve been doing up until now in California is not enough. If we want housing to be more affordable we’re going to have to look at new approaches," said Gabriel Metcalf, CEO of nonprofit urban think tank SPUR, who supports the bill. "Some of the suburban commuter rail stations are perfect locations for higher density."

Peter Cohen, co-director of San Francisco's Council of Community Housing Organizations, doesn't have a position on the bill but wants taller projects to provide more affordable housing.



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"Density should be directly related to increased affordability," he said.

Wiener said affordable housing requirements will be part of discussions. He noted that many of the projects that could be built under the bill would be under 10 units, which typically aren't subject to affordable housing requirements.

Cohen is also concerned that the bill won't push suburban areas to produce more housing and will continue to concentrate building in urban areas.

"Is it really going to change the regional development game or will it just promote development in the regions where it's already happening?" said Cohen. "When are we going to press the Bay Area suburbs to actually step up?"

The bill follows Wiener's SB 35, which passed last year and speeds up project approvals if cities aren't meeting their housing goals, as dictated by the state's Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA).

Wiener also proposed SB 828 on Thursday, which calls for a more data-driven approach in creating the RHNA. Wiener also proposed SB 829, which makes farmer housing in agricultural land by right.

In 2017, state lawmakers passed 15 major housing bills, and it continues to be a major political issue this year.

The state legislature is scheduled to hold a hearing on a bill to repeal Costa Hawkins, which would expand rent control to new buildings. A separate ballot measure that would repeal Costa Hawkins is also in the works. Advocates are also gathering signatures for a ballot measure to remove commercial properties from Prop. 13 tax protections.

"The politics around housing have totally shifted," said Wiener.