BY DAVE PRICE
Daily Post Editor
I’m sure many mid-Peninsula residents who have been fighting Senate Bill 50 breathed a sigh of relief when they learned the Senate Appropriations Committee put the bill on hold until January 2020.
The bill would have radically changed the mid-Peninsula. It would have allowed developers to bypass local zoning and put up high-density apartment and condo complexes. It would have changed our suburban communities into dense cities. And it threatened single-family homeowners, who could have seen a high-density housing project go up next door.
But the opponents of SB50 shouldn’t see this as a victory. I think SB50 will come roaring back. I say that for several reasons.
Wiener isn’t giving up
First, it’s author, Scott Wiener, is an ambitious politician who wants to make a name for himself in state politics. Tackling the state’s biggest issue — housing — is his vehicle to do that. I’ve been following his career since he was on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and it’s clear that he’s tenacious.
Wiener’s first try at bypassing local zoning to allow for more multi-family homes, SB827, failed in 2018, but he didn’t give up. Instead, he talked to the opponents of SB827 and added provisions in his next bill, SB50, that satisfied them to increase support for his legislation.
Secondly, for developers, there’s too much money to be made to let this die. SB50 would allow developers to bypass local planning commissions and city councils, resulting in large projects that have no chance of being approved currently. For developers, SB50 was a license to print money.
Third, some version of SB50 will return because there is a dire housing shortage, and cities aren’t approving enough housing. While SB50 was unpopular locally, there is broad public support statewide for building more housing. That feeling is only amplified by the growing number of homeless on the streets.
Some cities — such as Mountain View and Redwood City — have responded to the demand by approving a stunning amount of new housing. Other cities are dragging their feet.
Here’s the first sentence of a story the Post printed May 2:
“Mountain View City Council approved more apartments in two hours than Palo Alto City Council has permitted in the last five years.”
That really sums it up.
The story went on to say, “Between 2015 and 2018, Mountain View approved a net total of 2,436 housing units, almost six times as many as Palo Alto, which approved just 407 during the same years.”
SB50 will be back. And residents here will find themselves fighting an updated version of this bill, which may have more support.
What should opponents do?
Accelerate the process
My advice is to approve more housing. Approve so much housing that when Wiener argues cities aren’t doing enough, we can show that we are serious about housing — and that we’ve been approving more of it, but on our terms, with local control.
For Palo Alto, that means speeding up the process. A number of developments are in the pipeline. They have to move to completion faster. How do you do that? The developer and the Planning Department should anticipate neighborhood complaints in advance and present projects that respond to those expected complaints.
For instance, housing developments along El Camino need a sufficient amount of parking to ensure that neighborhood streets nearby aren’t flooded by the cars of tenants. Figure out in advance how much parking that would be, and then put it into the development, rather than holding hearings on a plan that lacks sufficient parking that gets thrown back to the developer for revisions. In other words, anticipate the problems in advance so the projects can move through faster.
When this bill comes back in January 2020, let’s have some accomplishments to show the Legislature so that they don’t take away local control of zoning decisions.
Don’t look at what happened with SB50 last week as a victory, but an opportunity.
Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is [email protected].