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Open Thread: Will Single-Family Juggernaut Finally Break?

A drone shot of the Sunset District’s sea of single-family housing. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

On Wednesday, State Senator Scott Wiener's transit-density bill, S.B. 50, passed the Senate Governance and Finance Committee by a vote of 6 to 1.

“Today we sent a message that the status quo cannot stand," wrote Wiener, in a prepared statement. "Our housing crisis hurts families, workers, children, our environment, and the list goes on. For years, we have ignored the steady growth of our crisis. We can no longer afford inaction... The legislative process will continue, but today was a vital and exciting step.”

The bill would supersede local zoning restrictions that currently prohibit multi-family dwellings adjacent to transit. Streetsblog readers will recall that last year's attempt at increasing density near transit, SB 827, failed to pass this committee hurdle.

Currently, it is illegal to build multi-family housing in over 70 percent of San Francisco, sometimes even in areas that are an easy walk from a transit hub. Supervisor Gordon Mar of the Sunset District of San Francisco, along with Norman Yee, Sandra Lee Fewer, Aaron Peskin, and Hillary Ronen, passed a city resolution to oppose SB 50 last month.

(Separately, and ironically, Mar and other Supervisors also declared a "Climate Emergency" and vowed to act against CO2 emissions).

S.B. 50 eliminates density restrictions for housing near transit and in job-rich areas. In counties with more than 600,000 residents, sites within a ½ mile of rail and ¼ mile of high-frequency bus stops and in job-rich areas will be upzoned. Within these geographies, a city may not limit density (e.g., ban apartment buildings). Within ½ mile of fixed rail, a city may not impose maximum height limits lower than either 55 feet or 45 feet. Local height-limits will still apply for bus stops and job-rich areas. SB 50 will also allow for the creation of fourplexes, by-right, in all California communities, regardless of jurisdiction or population.

“I have seen too many people I grew up with pushed out of San Francisco because we have not built enough housing, especially affordable housing, throughout our entire city," said Mayor London Breed in a statement about the bill. "I look forward to working with Senator Wiener and others to make sure SB 50 creates more housing opportunities near transit, while maintaining strong renter protections and demolition restrictions so we are focusing development on empty lots and underutilized commercial spaces."

The bill now heads for the Appropriations Committee. And if it passes, it then moves on to the Senate floor.

Do you think this could finally be the year the single-family zoning shackle is removed, and cities will finally be forced to build significant amounts of housing along transit? Comment below.

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