Zoning law goes to Jerry Brown with far fewer teeth

Lawmakers struck signature provision meant to boost housing production from final bill

State Senator Scott Wiener and homes under construction
State Senator Scott Wiener and homes under construction

When State Senator Scott Wiener introduced Senate Bill 828 in January, it doubled the amount of land local governments had to zone to meet local housing needs — a potential boon to multifamily developers across the state.

By the time both houses of the state legislature approved SB-828 this week — their last week before taking a two-month recess — lawmakers had gutted that signature provision.

The bill amended existing law that requires local governments to zone for 100 percent of the projected local housing need. The original bill authored by Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco, brought that up to 200 percent, with the goal of boosting housing production statewide to help alleviate California’s housing crisis.

But lawmakers whittled away at his ambitious proposal. In April they tamped down the required amount of residential-zoned land to 125 percent of local need.

It left the Senate with that requirement in late May. But then the State Assembly knocked that requirement back down to 100 percent.

While not as ambitious as first envisioned, the bill could still result in more residential zoning. The law sent to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk this week allows the state to take into account existing need as well as projected future need when determining zoning allocations.

The bill also sets a minimum target vacancy rate of 5 percent as “healthy,” and a goal of hitting that rate. Areas with lower than that vacancy rate will need to zone for more housing. Local governments will report more data to the state to determine local needs, including the percentage of people spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

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It also prevents local governments from arguing that underproduction in previous years should cause the state to reduce their requirement going forward. Previously, local governments were only allocated a number of units to meet future demand. Now the state will take into account the existing shortage. So if a city is short 5,000 units but will only add 1,000 residents in the coming years, existing law requires them only to allocate for 1,000 new residents.

An official familiar with the bill said that the changes in some cases could result in a 150 percent boost in the number of units governments will need to accommodate.

Gov. Brown will have a month to sign the bill into law.

SB-828 fared better than SB-827, another housing bill authored by Wiener that would have substantially increased the amount of land zoned for housing by overriding local zoning laws to allow more dense development near transit.

Housing advocates lauded the bill, but many local governments and residents living near transit opposed it, because it took planning power away from them and put it in the hands of the state.

The bill died in its first Senate hearing, despite significant reductions to its provisions. Wiener said he will return with a new version of the bill next year.