What Happens Now with SB 50?

Scott Lay
Publisher of The Nooner

What’s important to note is that, like the gas tax for road repair, SB 50 (Wiener) to override local zoning laws to encourage more housing density near transit and job-dense corridors can be done legislatively. Then, if there is enough opposition, there can be a referendum or a statutory initiative to change it. Only that way can you have a thorough informational campaign and discussion on the issue. As Gibran and I talk about on the pod dropped yesterday at around 35:00, the opposition by many cities was largely driven by wealthy donors and activists who councilmembers listened to even while the support was peppered with community and social justice organizations across the state.

In Los Angeles and San Francisco, you had mayors who vocally supported the bill, but councils (supes in SF) that opposed the bill. There’s no mistaking that the most vocal opposition in Los Angeles was by former Assemblymember Paul Koretz, who represents the west side, including Century City and UCLA, as well as Encino. There are lots of wealthy neighborhoods of single-family homes among burgeoning industry in the academic-related and creative industries. In Encino, there are lots of single-family homes within 1/2 mile of the White Oak/Ventura Blvd Metro rail station.

He has used protecting tree-lined streets and backyards in Los Angeles (and assumedly a two-car garage) as he pushed through his opposition council resolution to SB 50. He’s describing what I had growing up in Placentia. It was nice, but there wasn’t a housing crisis. Public higher education, not just community colleges, were nominally free of academic charges. I had to walk through snow from the couch to the teevee to change the channel.

Times change.

Nobody is proposing that my childhood home or anybody else’s be plowed down to build condo towers on Montecito. It’s about zoning for when there are willing buyers and sellers. I get that a backyard, two-car garage, front lawn, and swimming pool is the California Dream. I also know, however, lots of families living in denser housing that have given up nothing I had growing up.

In fact, I live in a large apartment on a lot that used to accommodate a single-family house and I’m guessing a large yard. Because of private development, there are now three units accommodating six people, although that’s certainly not the capacity. We have a nice courtyard in the middle where a couple play with their little one. There’s a large park and pond across the street. There’s a community pool two blocks away. There are festivals in the park and farmers market (three blocks away). I enjoyed my neighborhood growing up and still keep in touch with some of those “kids” but that doesn’t mean that’s the only way to have a great childhood.

The Southside Park neighborhood is seeing lots of projects that are densifying the area, including a quadplex across from me and lots of new construction around the corner on Fifth Street. This is all going through willing buyers and sellers and the willingness of a Planning Commission to set aside complaints from some neighbors. Densification doesn’t necessarily destroy neighborhoods, as Councilmember Koretz suggests. Rather, with good project review (something that would still be enabled under SB 50), it can actually build neighborhoods.

Read the Daily Bruin editorial on the topic that skewers Koretz.

I don’t know what would happen if SB 50 were passed (or placed on the ballot by initiative), but UCLA’s 45,428 students (let alone faculty and staff) may not be influential before the LA City Council, but they would quickly dwarf NIMBYism of the wealthy neighborhoods who constantly fight students over parking and housing developments. They would be voting on whether they have local housing or continue to spend as much time sitting on the 405 than in class.

A ballot fight would be ugly and points to why the Legislature needs to tackle this issue–sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, Michael Weinstein and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation are prepared to dump millions of their pharmaceutical/HMO profits into another ugly rent control campaign.

I’m not going to play the Clue game of exactly who killed (“deferred for more discussion”) SB 50 and whether they used a candlestick, wrench, or rope. What I do think is that if this issue is not addressed, there could be a Proposition 13-type rebellion, albeit from the opposite side of who fueled it in 1978. Remember, that effort was propelled through inaction in Sacramento.

Could Scott Wiener become the next Howard Jarvis-like figure?

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