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Sen. Scott Wiener makes sweeping revisions to transit-housing bill [Correction]

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California lawmaker packs “More Homes Act” with affordable-housing language, adds ferry lines to the menu

Ferries passing near the Bay Bridge. Photo by Sheila Fitzgerald/Shutterstock

Change is coming to SB 50, the major transit-housing bill that could radically alter zoning standards across California by zapping “hyper-low-density zoning” near major transit hubs out of existence, resulting in more housing development near bus and rail lines.

On Tuesday, Sen. Scott Wiener, the SF-based lawmaker who composed the bill, announced a series of amendments to his work. The new version of the bill (available in full here) makes a few key changes ahead of upcoming Committee on Housing hearings, including:

  • Ferries added to the equation. Now, in addition to considering bus and rail lines, Sen. Wiener’s bill will also count toward development near ferry lines and ports. As a result, “any area within a quarter or one-half miles of a planned rail or ferry station will also be rezoned” to the new density requirements.
  • Setting minimum requirements for low-income housing. Development near transit hubs will face a minimum inclusionary zoning requirements of 15 to 25 percent low-income homes, “depending on the size of the project.”
  • Defining a “jobs-rich area.” In addition to changing the way parcels near transit lines are zoned, the revamped SB 50 takes a look at development near “jobs-rich areas.” What does that mean? According to Wiener’s office, areas that “would allow people to live close to where they work, or new housing developed in this area would help to reduce vehicle miles traveled.” While that’s a bit hard to parse, the senator promises that maps of job-rich areas will be released ahead of committee debate.
  • Protection for mobile homes. The bill now extends its displacement protections to mobile home residents.

If passed the new law would also reduce or entirely do away with minimum-parking requirements across California. That’s now a redundant measure in San Francisco, which ditched parking requirements in 2018.

Tailoring SB 50, also known as the “More Homes Act,” is crucial to helping it avoid the fate of SB 827, a similar bill that Wiener tried and failed to push through last year.

Critically, one of the major complaints about SB 827 was anxiety about whether it would produce enough affordable housing.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, and Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs have all endorsed SB 50, along with groups like the California Apartment Association and AARP.

Cities like Beverley Hills and Palo Alto have come out against the bill, as have the likes of Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which is increasingly a big mover in housing politics.

[Correction: The mayor of Palo Alto has spoken against SB 50, but Adrian Fine, vice mayor of the city, tells Curbed SF that the city council “has not taken a formal position.”

“I, for one, am supporting SB-50,” adds Fine.]