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San Francisco lawmakers undercut Sen. Wiener’s transit-housing bill

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“SF would be aligning itself with some of the most housing-resistant communities in California,” warns Scott Wiener

Senator Scott Wiener speaking at a podium on the steps of SF City Hall.
Wiener in 2018.
Photo by Pax Ahimsa Gethen/Wikicommons

As State Sen. and former San Francisco District Eight Supervisor Scott Wiener labors to push his latest housing bill, SB 50, through the California legislature, SF City Hall has turned a skeptical eye on his efforts.

Last week, District Four Supervisor Gordon Mar—whose jurisdiction includes the Sunset, a neighborhood known for its dearth of residential growth—introduced a resolution spurning SB 50, calling it too restrictive on local authority and complaining that it doesn’t do enough to combat gentrification.

Wiener’s bill, if passed, would bar cities from mandating low-density housing within a quarter or half a mile (depending on the particulars) of a major transit line.

“For too long we have created sprawl by artificially limiting the number of homes that are built near transit and job centers,” said Wiener in December while announcing the new legislation.

In 2018, Wiener’s similar measure, SB 827, failed in committee.

Regarding the density plan, Mar’s resolution says that SB 50 would “entitle real estate developers to increase both residential and mixed use development with significantly less public review.”

Among Mar’s other complaints:

SB 50 restricts the ability of the city to adopt long term zoning and land use policies to assure equitable and affordable development in those neighborhoods; denies the city the ability to adjust or expand the boundaries of those protected neighborhoods based upon community testimony and additional research.

And SB 50’s temporary ‘Sensitive Communities’ exemption fails to encompass many of the areas threatened by development driven displacement and gentrification, including parts of the Mission, Chinatown, Western South of Market, Portola, the Bayview, Castro, Inner Richmond and others.

Mar also alleges that the potential new law “confers significant value to properties for increased development opportunity, and yet is not tied to any increased affordability requirements.”

Affordable housing is a real sticking point for SB 50, as this was the issue that sank Wiener’s previous transit-housing bill.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed has endorsed SB 50. So have the mayors of Oakland, San Jose, and Stockton.

However, Supervisors Rafael Mandelman, Hillary Ronen, Aaron Peskin, Shamann Walton, Sandra Lee Fewer, and Board President Norman Yee all back Mar’s objection—more than enough to pass it in its current form.

The city’s Board of Supervisors, of course, doesn’t get any real say in state law. But if it seems like Wiener’s hometown disapproves of his plan, it could undercut him politically.

In response to Mar, Wiener sent a letter Monday answering the supervisor’s criticisms. Wiener said, in part:

If the Board of Supervisors were to adopt your resolution and oppose SB 50, San Francisco would be aligning itself with some of the wealthiest and most housing-resistant communities in California.

Some of the most vocal critics of the bill are the anti-growth mayors of Palo Alto, Beverly Hills, and Los Altos, as well as anti-growth advocates in Cupertino and Marin County.

[...] Restrictive and exclusionary zoning was originally created 100 years ago to keep people of color and low-income people out of wealthy neighborhoods, and is currently exacerbating racial and income segregation.

Wiener charges that low-density zoning, particularly near transit and job sites, drives up housing prices and fosters displacement while also harming the environment.

The state senator tells Mar that SB 50 will “legalize affordable housing throughout the city” and produce more affordable housing by clearing away roadblocks to construction created by the current zoning.

Mar has not yet returned requests for additional comment on the subject.

According to the California legislature, SB 50 is set for its first committee hearing April 2.