You got to hand it to Scott Wiener of San Francisco.  Curing the state’s housing shortage was a plank in his election platform and, true to his word he’s been in search of that cure since he arrived in the state senate last year.

Knowing that California had a supply problem – and recognizing that expanding that supply relied heavily on the okay’s of local governments – last year he introduced SB 35, a bill to streamline the project-approval process and to remove local barriers to development.

To say the least it was an ambitious effort and the measure was amended over a dozen times before finally being passed in the waning days of the 2017 session.  It was opposed by local government but its wide support – even after it underwent its “watering down” amendments – meant it was finally signed into law by the Governor.  

But, with the enactment of SB 35, Senator Wiener had only just begun – still searching for housing’s brass ring.  This year, he introduced SB 827, a bill to automatically give housing developers extra floors for their projects if they’re located close to a transit hub.  Wiener thinks tenants want to be near transportation.  He’s right.  Most do.  In fact, if Wiener can pull this off, he will have addressed two legs of the three-legged stool of California’s poor families – rent and mobility; the third as yet unaddressed leg being income.

Wiener has a long way to go on this one, however.  In addition to the expected mighty opposition from the League of California Cities, he must tangle with the state chapter of the Sierra Club, whose activist members simply are opposed to having more people occupy California – even its urban areas.  Opposition of the Sierra Club, by the way, covers the NIMBY (“not in my backyard”) groups, who most assuredly already object to the bill.

Also, opposing the bill are the state’s major gubernatorial candidates.  Recently, both Democrat and Republican candidates argued the bill would strip away the power of local governments to say no to new housing.  Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa, who according to at least one poll recently slipped from second place to fourth in the gubernatorial sweepstakes, said what most of the candidates were probably thinking.  “The communities of L.A. want to be able to make their own decisions,” he declared.  In other words, give the NIMBYs their say.

Travis Allen worried that the bill was an attack on single-family housing.  “The California Democrats are trying to convince Californians that what you need is less local control and more high-density, infill urban housing,” the Republican candidate said, suggesting that state residents want to live in homes “with a front yard and a backyard.”

Former L.A. County supervisor Zev Yarovslasky takes on SB 827 in the current edition of The Planning Report, seemingly suggesting it’s a bad thing to “monetize” real estate so that housing (and not sales-tax generating commercial facilities) can be built.  Zarovslasky, who takes a shotgun approach to the measure, objects to the bill’s definition of a “major transit stop” and seemingly objects to the high-density development the bill promotes, saying:

That’s one of the most insidious features of this bill:  it determines the size, height, and density of allowable development based on how often a bus comes down the local business street during peak hours.  

Duh.   But, Zarovslasky isn’t finished with his criticism of SB 827.  He, who on the one hand suggests that tenant groups are close to opposing the bill then, with the other hand, exposes his true NIMBY sympathies by concluding:

I admit some of that planning has not been good. But on the whole, it has been the result of give-and-take from the stakeholders who live and work in these communities.

(I wonder how many tenant groups agree with that point of view.)  Meanwhile, following his lead, the L.A. City Council voted to oppose the bill.

All this opposition and controversy is giving the bill attention that I’m sure Senator Wiener didn’t expect.  Opponents of SB 827 are giving this bill a high profile even before its first hearing.

That’s not stopping California’s business groups though, who are uniformly in support of the bill.  From the California Association of REALTORS® to the California Building Industry Association to the California Chamber of Commerce – they all like it.  Indeed, it puts a financial incentive on higher-density development and, despite the misgivings of Travis Allen, helps make downtown competitive with the suburbs.

Knowing the kind of housing deficit California is in, I’m sure Wiener hardly expects the bill will do anything but barely dent the state’s annual housing need, which by most estimates exceeds 200,000 single-family and multifamily units a year.  But, it’s a start.

Although the bill isn’t likely to get very far, it’s reasonably good policy.  Hallelujah.  Could it be that the Legislature finally has a true housing champion?  Hope so.  Wiener now just needs a little company.