Transit Housing Bill Dies in Committee

Housing crisis continues, but "local control" and the "character of the neighborhood" are preserved

With S.B.-827 dead, transit-adjacent structures, such as this Wells Fargo in West Portal, will still be protected by local zoning from being displaced by dense apartment buildings. Image: Google Earth
With S.B.-827 dead, transit-adjacent structures, such as this Wells Fargo in West Portal, will still be protected by local zoning from being displaced by dense apartment buildings. Image: Google Earth

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State Senator Scott Wiener’s transit housing bill, S.B. 827, was defeated by a six-to-four vote in the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee yesterday. “While I’m disappointed that Senate Bill 827 won’t be moving forward this year, I’m heartened by the conversation it has started, both with those who support the bill and with critics of the bill,” wrote Wiener, in a prepared statement about the vote. “The passion we have seen around this bill is driven by what we are all feeling–that California’s housing costs are unsustainable and our housing policies aren’t working. California needs to get at the heart of our housing shortage, not just work around the edges, or we will become a hollowed out state with no middle class.”

When Weiner talks about working “around the edges,” he’s probably referring to local legislation such as Home-SF, which looked to increase density in a limited and politically palatable way without touching current residential zoning. Given ever-rising home prices, that approach clearly hasn’t worked, nor could it, given the sheer scale of the housing problem. “Home-SF is a good little program, but it’s not bringing housing online at the speed that we need it to,” said YIMBY Action’s Laura Foote Clark, in a phone interview with Streetsblog. “San Francisco said we have these local programs, so we don’t need SB-827, but our local programs are not successful.” (For the record, only three Home-SF projects are in the planning pipeline; at best it has the potential to create 5,000 affordable units over 20 years, according to the office of the laws’ author, Supervisor Katy Tang).

As pointed out in a previous post, 70 percent of the private land in San Francisco is still limited to one or two family zoning, where Home-SF doesn’t even apply. That means that even around shopping districts with good transit, where increased density and a car-free, walkable lifestyle can be accommodated, it’s impossible in most of the city to construct apartment buildings at all, let alone multistory ones. Weiner’s bill sought to finally address that elephant in the room.

However, “The opposition to the bill was tremendous. Some of that was inevitable, especially from local governments. Yet some of it was self-inflicted by racing out a bill of such monumental power without working with housing, equity and environmental groups to first shape it,” wrote TransForm’s Stuart Cohen, in an email to Streetsblog. “This bill was much more powerful than last year’s S.B. 35, and to dramatically change zoning there should be an inclusive and transparent process to help shape that.”

“This is an idea whose time has come,” said Clark. “But the forces of the status quo are extremely strong.” Clark said her group will just keep pushing until they start to create an environment that is conducive to producing housing. She said she’s motivated by the stories of people ending up homeless in the Bay Area, including a person she knows who lives in his car, and another who lives in an SRO, plus two people they put up in their office. “At the end of the day, that’s what keeps you going.”

“Now, my job is to take the conversation started by S.B. 827, and get to work on developing a proposal that meets the ambitious goals of this bill, while incorporating what we have learned since we introduced it,” wrote Weiner in his statement. “I look forward to working in the coming months to develop a strong proposal for next year.”

  • DrunkEngineer

    TransForm’s Stuart Cohen, in an email to Streetsblog: “to dramatically change zoning there should be an inclusive and transparent process to help shape that.”

    **eye roll**
    So a public hearing at the State capitol is not an inclusive transparent process? What does Suart propose — a backroom deal?

  • Eric Johnson

    So Tuesday’s post was supposedly about the need for ground-up community participation as to visions imposed from above. Today’s is yet another in a long series in favor of just the opposite: using the power of the state to quash any local control. SB 827 is extremely popular with libertarians and real estate speculators and the techbro twenty-something males that hang out at r/san francisco and is very unpopular with just about everybody else, including “disadvantaged communities”. Sure, there are changes we need to make to produce more housing, but SB827 was the legislative equivalent of sh-tposting.

  • Stuart Cohen

    A public hearing where you get to get up and only say the name of your org and whether you support or oppose is NOT an inclusive process. I meant inclusive as in helping shape the legislation from the beginning. TransForm was playing a productive role with our recommendations and Senator Wiener’s office was very responsive to us, but several of our allies especially in SoCal did not have that access. A bill of this power just takes more lead time, plus should have more mechanisms for input (that is heard) than this one legislative session allowed. I think this breathing room gives a much stronger chance of having a bill in the next session that is more nuanced, effective,and can become law.

  • Flatlander

    As the opposite of a libertarian who does not work in Tech and who is in his thirties and who supported the bill, have you considered broadening your perspectives?

  • Eric Johnson

    “Opposite of a libertarian”? What’s that? Stalinist? Taliban? No thanks.

  • DrunkEngineer

    Wiener’s district is in San Francisco. If there were SoCal groups that wanted input, they have their own Senators for that.

    The fact is that the so-called affordable housing groups were not interested in shaping the legislation at all, they just wanted it killed. Which of course they did (good job!). So if anything they already have too much influence and access over the process. This does not bode well for any future legislation.

  • Frank Kotter

    Your original post had a lot more value until you took your ideological mask down.

  • Eric Johnson

    This is as baffling as Flatlander’s self-description. What did you think my ideology was before and, now that my fraud has been exposure, what does it turn out to be?

    My comment history is there for all to see, just a click away. You and Flatlander both hide yours.

  • Armand Sebellius

    One problem is that the status quo veils and silences one important group of people – potential migrants who cannot move to San Francisco or have to pull of awkward arrangements to work around the lack of housing. In this nation we have something called freedom of movement – we’re all Americans, so in a sense every American city belongs to every American.

  • Eric Johnson

    Keeping in mind the topics at hand (why did SB827 die in committee and topdown vs ground-up planning): just how well do you think it’s going to go over when you stand in front of a group of people in the Mission or Bay View who are worried about gentrification that they must put aside their concerns for the sake of the people who want to move there?

  • LazyReader

    No new bill is gonna save transit. Transit nationwide loses 50 billion dollars a year because it’s run by bureaucracy that’s more interested in providing benefits to transit agencies and rail engineering firms than it is providing actual demand based transportation. Public transit as we know it will inevitably collapse by 2030. the four horsemen of the transit apocalypse include:

    – Low fuel prices: Whether gas………..or future, electricity price of electricity is 13 cents per kilowatt-hour ( 8 bucks to charge a Chevy Bolt), even the most expensive electricity in Hawaii at 30 cents per kw-h costs the driver 18 dollars to charge.
    – Ride-sharing services: have eaten away at nearly half of all new transit riders. Even urban millennial’s, the most car hating group of tattooed, starbucks loving hipsters, have basically swarmed ride hailing services.
    – Maintenance backlogs: Tens of billions of dollars of crucial maintenance has gone ignored, mostly the finances have gone towards, expanding and construction of rail transit services beyond geographic relevance.
    – Unfunded pension and health-care liabilities: The biggest Nail in the coffin. The danger is that, when transit agencies lose their customers, they’ll still have hundreds of billions of dollars in debts and unfunded liabilities. Unlike the maintenance backlog for high-
    ways and bridges, which could be easily eliminated with a small increase in fuel taxes or other user fees, the transit industry has no hope of fixing its backlog by raising transit fares. Those fares do not begin to cover operating costs, much less the costs of maintenance or improvements.
    This is why it is important to begin now to plan the transition from publicly subsidized transit and massive urban rail projects in cities without the population to a small scale, demand oriented or privatized transit services. This means the industry should stop building new rail lines; replace most existing rail lines with buses as they wear out; pay down debts and unfunded obligations; and target any further subsidies to low-income people rather than continue a futile crusade to attract higher-income people out of their cars.