New Housing Bill Has People Freaking Out

Housing apartmentMemes of a mild-mannered California legislator photoshopped as a Star Trek villain. A San Francisco supervisor suggesting the city should sue the state, to “thunderous applause.” Wealthy Marin County homeowners and South Los Angeles tenants’ rights groups working as political bedfellows.

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All inspired by a wonky state housing bill that has yet to receive a single vote — and faces tough odds of passing the Legislature.

Senate Bill 827, sponsored by state Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco, tries to force cities to build more dense housing around public transit hubs. The bill has received a remarkable level of media attention both within California and nationally, providing fodder for think pieces from Slate, Vox, The Boston Globe, Bloomberg and The New York Times — which called it a “bold, divisive plan to wean Californians from cars.”

That attention has only amplified a loud and acrimonious debate over how the bill would transform California cities. Proponents see the bill as a radical and necessary step for the state to solve its endemic housing shortage and meet its ambitious climate change goals. Opponents see it as a blunt overreach of state power that would destroy the character of local communities while displacing long-established residents so developers could build more luxury condo towers for rich people.

Here are four things you should know about California’s most controversial housing bill in decades:

1) This isn’t hype. If it becomes law, the bill could really revolutionize California cities.

As currently written, SB 827 would essentially exempt all new housing built within half a mile of a train stop or quarter mile of a frequent bus stop from most local zoning rules. So, if a city had zoned an area for single-family homes, developers could invoke the bill to build multifamily apartment buildings between four and eight stories high. It would also free those projects from parking requirements and other zoning rules frequently abused by cities to impede new development.

How much area in major California cities would fall under the bill? That’s what makes this so radical. Preliminary analysis by the San Francisco Planning Department shows that basically all — yes, all — of San Francisco and huge swaths of Los Angeles would lose their local zoning regulations. Ninety percent of San Francisco’s residential parcels would have a higher height limit for new development under the bill.

A more rigorous analysis of just how much developers would take advantage of the bill, and how it would apply to smaller California cities, has not yet been conducted. But the potential is huge.

For decades, urbanists across the state have have longed for the type of density SB 827 would bring. Despite major pushback from some quarters of his home city that San Francisco would become unrecognizable should the bill become law, Wiener has stressed that such density is good for cities like San Francisco, and the most effective way to combat the region’s astronomical housing prices.

2) Many environmentalists love this bill

Proponents of SB 827 say it has two primary goals: 1) to increase the supply of housing and thereby lower housing prices, and 2) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

Urban planning academics and climate change activists argue the state can only meet its climate change goals—a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by the year 2030—if it succeeds in getting people out of their cars and onto public transportation closer to where they work. Alternative energy sources and cleaner-burning power plants can only go so far: The leading cause of emissions nationally is the tailpipe. Building tons of housing in major job centers close to good transit seems like a sensible and necessary solution, they argue.

But at least one prominent environmental group with a tradition of opposing new development has balked at the measure. Angering many climate change activists, California’s Sierra Club has argued the bill would only create more local hostility to future transportation projects and would displace low-income residents.

Anti-gentrification groups argue that communities whose residents have lower incomes are much more likely to ride a bus or take a subway to work than commuters who earn more money. If lower-income residents are exiled to the suburbs as a consequence of the bill, its success at cutting carbon emissions will be muted at best.

Anti-gentrification and tenants’ rights groups not so much

Advocates for lower-income renters and urban communities of color have greeted SB 827 with a mixture of skepticism and hostility. A group of prominent Los Angeles anti-gentrification and civil rights groups signed onto a letter opposing the bill last month on the grounds that it lacked sufficient protections for renters whose apartments could be demolished to make way for newer, bigger, market-rate projects. They also expressed the broader fear that “opening the floodgates” around transit corridors would mean rents around shiny new developments would rise out of reach of current residents.

Wiener has addressed some of those concerns by amending the bill to include fairly strict renter protections. Developers who wish to demolish a renter-occupied unit would have to pay for the moving and living expenses of tenants for more than three years, and renters would have the right to move back into the new development at their old rent.

But the changes have yet to attract broad support from major housing equity groups, who fear the larger gentrification pressures possibly unleashed from the bill. It also didn’t help that backers of SB 827 waited until after the bill’s announcement to try to court those groups’ endorsement.

The bill faces a very tough road in the Legislature — a road that goes through Marin County

Bills that override local zoning control are rarely popular in the California Legislature. Homeowners in many regions of the state are, by and large, not thrilled with the idea of new apartment complexes going up next door over their objections. Homeowners are also more likely to vote than renters—a fact state legislators are acutely aware of.

Cities and counties are stealth power players in Sacramento, and are also not fans of having their zoning power stripped away. Up and down the state, mayors, city council members and county supervisors have come out against the bill, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Last year, lawmakers passed a handful of laws that encroached on the traditional zoning power of cities. But that housing package took a herculean effort to enact after years of failure, and importantly included new funding sources for subsidized housing, as well as tenants’ protections that attracted support from a wide coalition of housing groups. And the zoning process changes brought by those laws pale in comparison to what SB 827 could do.

Nowhere has opposition to state interference in local planning decisions been as fierce as in Marin County, an affluent northern suburb in the Bay Area. If the bill is to receive a full vote of the Legislature, it will first have to clear a committee controlled by Sen. Mike McGuire, a Democrat who represents Marin. McGuire could prevent the bill from moving past his desk and receiving a vote.


  1. Ok morons, give up your houses and move into one of these subdivision. Probably most of you live in these glamorous homes with “WALLS” to protect you from us little people.
    You want to talk the talk…walk the walk. Sell your multi million dollar homes and move into these apartments.

    • I’ll get serious about this issue, when you complete your research on the subject of the Psychological Studies that have been undertaken on “overcrowding and its effects on the individual and its psychological response to the subject”.

  2. Centralized “Wiener” Planning!
    What could go wrong?
    BTW, with people forced out of their vehicles since they won’t have anywhere to park them at their high-rise residences, they’ll probably utilize services such as Uber and Lyft; how much does “The Wiener” get from these services in campaign contributions, both cash and in-kind?

    The country’s already had to undergo one “Wiener” experience, do we really need another?

  3. The Captive says

    This shows how our taxes will be spent as they slough off into the pockets of the Dems. who concocted this bill. There are enough cities along the tracks because that’s the historical beginning when people came out west and built along the tracks —but now the LEFT -LIBS want things as uncomfortable as can be. More crime and problems develop as OVERCROWDING develops. Thumbs down to SB827

  4. Quetta Woodard says

    This is Agenda 21! Very scary!

  5. I never thought I would see the book titled, 1984, become a well defined reality. But day by day I see the submersion of the individual into the California state collective. Rules for this and rules for something else, all to appease idiocy and left wing policies.
    Makes me want to shout that famous line from the movie, NETWORK: “I’m mad as Hell and I’m not going to take this anymore”, and do what I must to have sanity prevail once more in the grand state of CALIFORNICATION.

  6. JLSeagull says

    Idiot Wiener sticking it to Californian again. The guy’s mother should have visited an abortion clinic. During his next election run his opponent should hit renters hard with Wiener’s grand plan to move them out of the city.

  7. WHAT?
    They are already building high density in Orange County and it seems there will be no end already! As if traffic on freeways and surface streets is not bad enough, there will also be no place to park your vehicle when you arrive at your destination. This is dirty Agenda 21 alright, something that most no nothing about. Dangerous. This must fail. And coming from an overpopulated area myself, I can tell you that there definitely is something to psychological changes that take place within high population environments and it is not pretty! Don’t we have enough problems in Crazifornia already, without creating more?

    • UpChuckLiberals says

      LA did a study that showed that people WON’T take mass discomfort….errrr transit, if they are MORE than 1/4 of a mile away from it. A cold hard fact, ridership of Public ‘transit’ is falling like a stone. This is pure Marxist Agenda 21 and it inevitable FAILURE.

  8. Remember the welfare housing when they tried this type of apartment complexes? It didn’t work very well. Overcrowding always leads to trouble. Also as a homeowner, I do not want the government telling me I have to move of if real estate I purchased.

  9. Gotta Gedada Displace says

    “This bill becoming law law will revolutionize CA Cities” —
    Yeah, the way Nuclear Power “Revolutionized” …..Fukishima !

    The worst mistake a society can make is giving absolute power to morons, idiots, and the corrupt – if daily living example of this in DC and Sacramento isn’t enough, look for the real-life results in cities such as Detroit, Chicago, and Baltimore. There is a REASON for the common denominator of these cities ( and the WHOLE STATE of Illinois !) of POPULATION LOSS. If you don’t see the same situation here in CA, just GO BACK TO SLEEP !

  10. Just another reason to get out of this state. I am appalled at this kind of thinking. These lawmakers must be getting all of their ideas out of Orwell’s book. Disgusting, invasive and signals the death of privacy; introduces tiny, cramped living spaces which will add to the high levels of tension felt by those living in these types of conditions.

    In other words, let’s move the peasants into the barn and have the mansion all to ourselves.

  11. vistacharlie says

    So this will exempt local zoning regulations?? will it provide fire and police resources. Will it magically do city planning such as water and sewer. Will it override safety zoning for airplanes, etc. i think the author of this bill is envisioning a 500 sq foot apartment size funded by the government for welfareites. Perhaps free cable from selected viewpoints. kinda reminds me of 1984.

  12. Agenda 21, baby….
    It’s here…
    They wanna turn LA & SF into NYC..


    They’re already doing this in Denver…beehive apartments everywhere along the light rail system…

  13. A “social engineer’s ” dream.

  14. CATRYNA WHITE says

    Definitely sounds like Agenda 21.

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