Sen. Wiener uses ‘gut and amend’ maneuver to introduce legislation to help move housing projects along; SB50 is still on hold

State Sen. Scott Wiener talks to residents after a speech at Lucie Stern Community Center in Palo Alto earlier this month. Post photo by Allison Levitsky.

BY ELAINE GOODMAN
Daily Post Correspondent

A 37-year-old California housing law is receiving a fresh wave of attention from Sen. Scott Wiener, one of the biggest housing proponents in the state Legislature.

Wiener last week used what’s known as a “gut and amend” maneuver to completely rewrite a bill unrelated to housing, SB592, substituting language that he says will close loopholes in the state’s Housing Accountability Act. The original SB592 addressed licensure for barbers and cosmetologists.

The Housing Accountability Act, enacted in 1982, is intended to make it harder for local governments to block housing projects. It’s sometimes referred to as the anti-NIMBY law, which refers to residents who say “not in my backyard” when it comes to new development.

Under the Act, a proposed housing project that complies with a city’s zoning and general plan can’t be rejected — unless the city can detail in writing why the project would have an unavoidable impact on public health or safety. The city also can’t add requirements to such a project so that it would no longer be feasible to build. But the law has had little impact until recently, Wiener said.

“Until a few years ago, many cities ignored it and it wasn’t enforced,” Wiener said Sunday (June 16).

A broader definition of a housing development

Wiener’s new version of SB592 would clarify that a housing development doesn’t have to be a multi-unit project to be covered by the Housing Accountability Act. A project could be a single housing unit; an accessory dwelling unit, or so-called granny unit; or even the addition of one or more bedrooms to an existing home, under the bill.

The Housing Accountability Act that’s now law says a city can’t vote to reject a housing project that complies with its zoning and general plan. SB592 would change “vote” to “take action” regarding a housing project.

That’s because some projects aren’t required to go to a city council or planning commission for a vote, but may be approved by city staff.

In addition, if a developer takes a city to court for rejecting a housing project and wins, SB592 would allow the developer to receive compensatory damages, in addition to attorney fees.

Wiener said the rewrite of SB592 wasn’t prompted by any particular housing projects that are pending. And as for the original SB592 regarding barber licensing, Wiener said the bill was intended as a placeholder and wasn’t expected to become law.

Wiener has been in the spotlight in recent months for another bill he has introduced, SB50. The bill would preempt local zoning and allow denser housing near transit and jobs.

SB50 is still on hold

The bill stalled last month when it failed to get out of the Senate Appropriations Committee. SB50 was changed to a two-year bill, meaning Legislature wouldn’t again consider it until January 2020.

Wiener said he’s not currently expecting that timeline to change, and he’s not aware of plans to incorporate SB50’s provisions into other bills.

But “things can change on a moment’s notice,” he said.

Some California cities have been taken to court in recent years for alleged violations of the Housing Accountability Act, and the law has been strengthened through legislation that took effect last year.

Local governments now face a tougher standard for showing there are reasons a housing project should be rejected; attorney fees are now authorized in more cases; and the law now requires fines if a city loses a Housing Accountability case in court and fails to comply with the Act within 60 days. The fine is a minimum of $10,000 per housing unit.

13 Comments

  1. What a weasel maneuver. Anything coming from Weiner is poison for our communities. His goal is nothing short of the elimination of local control and single family homes. He’s a fanatic hiding behind affordable housing, but his real target is our homes. The only thing they’ll build is luxury condos for tech bros that will destroy the character of our neighborhoods.

  2. With regard to bringing back SB 50 by gutting and amending another bill, state Senator Scott Wiener is quoted as stating that “things can change on a moment’s notice.” As to SB 592, Senator Wiener is not cited as addressing my observation (posted on Saturday’s article) that the bill might stop cities and counties from denying a housing development application based on the lack of any “discretionary” requirement. I gave the example of parking as something that might be phrased locally as discretionary. Height limits might also be phrased as discretionary under a local ordinance. I suggested cities and counties get off their behinds and have their staff attorneys evaluate this bill without delay. It could pass and be signed into law on “a moment’s notice.”

  3. As a homeowner who lives in a lovely little middle class pocket in the San Fernando Valley that currently has not one but TWO of these high rise towers for homeless folks approved on either end of my street I am not pleased by any efforts that allow such developments to get pushed through faster.

    I worry about increased traffic from caseworkers etc parking on our block since the building is not required to create parking underneath it and I am worried about where residents of these buildings will hang out when they aren’t in their tiny rooms.

    Not heartless just concerned.

    • Lisa – you claim you’re not heartless but think about this for a minute. Those two towers will give folks living on the streets today a clean place to sleep, shower, and rest. It gives them a physical mailing address and a place to store belongings including a computer. These are the first steps to getting and holding a full time job.

      So what will these people do? Presumably, work. But your concern over parking is so much that you’re willing to let people continue sleeping on the street and defecating in bushes.

      I’m sure you’re a nice person. But to put it bluntly, you’re willing to leave people without homes just so your car can have one.
      E

  4. We badly need zoning reform.

    SB50 got put on ice by parliamentary shenanigans, and now it can be brought to a vote by parliamentary shenanigans.

    Let the legislature actually vote on zoning reform: This is Democracy!

  5. I don’t really give a rat’s a** about local control. Thanks to “local control” we have a housing shortage. We have tech companies that have overdeveloped, creating major problems in our communities. Local control has been a failure. I hope Wiener doesn’t give up and pushes through a bill that would allow more housing to get built. And to the NIMBYs I say, You had your chance and you blew it.

  6. Senator Wiener is an ill informed ideologue whose policies won’t solve the problems he states need correction. In a democracy, each municipality should have the right to decide the character of its community expressed as zoning laws. Nowhere in the Constitution does it state that all of us must live in multi story buildings like he envisions. Legislators are advised to kill this bill and any other attempts at resuscitation of this badly conceived scheme to preempt local zoning.

  7. Affordable housing will not be solved by naive state legislation that overrides local planning and control. There are many causes of the affordability crisis facing our country. It is not just a California problem. State reps like Wiener should get off the forced state legislation and offer state funding for locally zoned housing that meets affordability standards. How about offering monetary incentives to towns and cities that can prove that more than 20% of their new housing is affordable? They could also provide financial support to cities and towns that address their homeless and affordability problems not only with housing, but with sensible programs that actually get addicts off drugs and onto paying jobs. San Diego has a homeless program that is 93% effective. San Francisco has a very expensive program that is 0% effective and actually adds more homeless each year. Wonder why, maybe they need more city employees?

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