Assembly passes controversial housing bill SB10

Marc berman
Assemblyman Marc Berman. File photo.

Daily Post Staff Writer

A bill that allows city councils and county boards of supervisors to override voter-approved ballot measures in exchange for higher-density housing passed the state Assembly on Monday with a “yes” vote from the mid-Peninsula’s representative.

Senate Bill 10 allows cities to forego environmental review and override local land-use restrictions when approving developments of up to 14 units on single-family lots in non-sprawl areas.

The bill passed 43-10 and now heads to the Senate, which had already approved an earlier version. The Senate will have a concurrence vote and then it goes to the governor’s desk.

Marc Berman, D-Menlo Park, voted in favor. He hadn’t announced his position before, and still hasn’t taken a stance on another controversial housing bill, SB9.

Unlike SB9, which allows homeowners to split their lots in two and put two homes on each half, SB10 imposes no new requirements on local jurisdictions.

Supporters of SB10 say it will help alleviate California’s housing affordability crisis.

“SB10 provides cities with a powerful, fast, and effective tool to allow light-touch density exactly where it should be: near jobs, near public transportation, and in existing urbanized areas,” said the bill’s author, state Sen. Scott Weiner, D-San Francisco.

But opponents of the bill say it gives city councils the power to override voter-approved initiatives that restrict land use, and it may result in housing developments that create parking problems in neighborhoods.

“Overturning elections represents a new power that no legislative branch of government should have, and which I as a city councilman do not want,” said Palo Alto Councilman Eric Filseth.

Los Altos resident Barry Smith helped to form “United Neighbors of Assembly District 24” after reading about SB9 and SB10 a few months ago. The group aims to bring city-based groups together and advocate against the bills.

So far, their attempts to meet with Berman have gone unfulfilled, Smith said.

The vast majority of people don’t know about the bills, and they oppose them when they learn the details, Smith said.

SB10 would incentivize developers to pour money into council elections to elect candidates who will rezone residential properties for higher density housing, Smith said.

“It’s a very dangerous setup for money in politics,” he said.


  1. The notion that SB10 provides City Councils with a “powerful, fast, and effective” new zoning tool is an outright, cynical falsehood. We City Councils already have that power, as Senator Wiener knows perfectly well.

    In fact, the “10-unit zoning” is a distraction from the real intent of SB10, which is the voter-override provision. By passing it, the State Legislature has shot a significant hole in the California initiative process, one of the last voter checks-and-balances against special interests and out-of-touchness in the State Legislature; and long a thorn in the side of would-be dirigistes in Sacramento and frankly many red states as well.

    SB10 establishes a precedent that voter initiatives in California can be arbitrarily overturned by elected officials, even if they pass at the ballot box. This goes far beyond turf-fights over zoning. Voter initiatives are elections; SB10 establishes a way to suppress them. It is a major step towards taking away the power of citizens to rein in a legislative body when it drifts away from serving voter interests, especially relevant in what’s effectively a one-party state.

    Forced to choose between party leaders with power over their political careers, against the constituents who elected them, 43 assembly members cynically chose the former and threw the latter under a bus. It’s an inexplicable, anti-voter action for any of those 43 who purports to work on behalf of voters, and voters should not forget that next year.

  2. Please elaborate on your statement that “SB10 establishes a precedent that voter initiatives in California can be arbitrarily overturned by elected officials, even if they pass at the ballot box.” This sounds utterly unconstitutional.

  3. SB10 allows City Councils, on a 2/3 vote, to overturn voter initiatives on land use after they pass at the ballot box. So, suppose voters put an initiative on the ballot to ban new development in the Baylands, and it passes. The city council disagrees, sets aside the vote, and starts approving more development there. An interesting question would be, would it apply to Palo Alto’s 2018 office cap ballot initiative, which was strongly supported by voters but opposed by a majority of the then council?

    Likely these won’t get even that far. Who would put the time and effort into getting an initiative onto the ballot in the first place, knowing it could be simply overturned? Which is the major point of SB10 — to suppress voter ballot initiatives.

    Apologists say, well it’s only city councils, and only on land use. But if City Councils have that power, it’s only a matter of time before other branches of government (Sacramento themselves …) want it too. And if it applies land use, it’s only a matter of time until it applies to many things. SB10 is the Legislature’s way of starting to get rid of that pesky Initiative process in California.

  4. If people don’t like their councils using SB10, they’ll vote out their councils -that’s how accountability works in a representative democracy. Filseth need not worry, as a Palo Alto councilmember getting upset about the implications of an opt-in path to approving housing is as absurd as if Fresno’s mayor went on the war path over a beach access law. Leaders like him are why so many of his constituents need to buy plane tickets when they want to see their grandchildren.

    P.S. Journalism is when you go to press with only one side of an issue.

    • Why would you want to take out voter initiatives? Aren’t theset the most basic example of democracy?

      What reason do you suppose Wiener would need to do that if SB10 is “voluntary” as he repeatedly promotes?

      Two potential answers:
      1. Real estate interests are now unabashedly motivated to buy council seats. Money works, and city elections can be swayed with very little money.
      2. Wiener wil come back next year and say “cities aren’t building SB10 10-units fast enough. So we now need to take the obstructionist city councils out of the equation, and make SB10 “ministerial”—i.e. cities/voters can’t stop.

  5. Council members like Eric Filseth have ruined Palo Alto, pushing my generation out in favor of selfish NIMBYs who want to see their home prices keep ballooning and their cleaners, gardeners, trainers, etc. commuting from farther and farther away. Amazing to see him freaking out over a law that affects cities that opt in to it, and a law that allows 2/3 of a city council (which is elected by citizens) to override dumb initiatives that pass with only 50%.

    The madness continues, and Palo Alto continues to embarrass itself. Thank goodness our higher-level politicians like Berman are not this self serving and actually act in the common interest.

  6. I’m disappointed to see so much focus here on the opposition to the bill. I’m in Asm. Berman’s district, and I’m thrilled with his leadership on this. I’m in my early 30s and looking at spending the next ~50 years of my life here — but the future looks pretty concerning if we don’t build to accommodate my generation, and workers, just like we did for previous generations. Our severe housing shortage manifests in many ways and hurts our economy, climate, small businesses, and institutions. I welcome new forms of housing here so that we have a chance at having more complete communities (as they once were). I’m so glad to see this bill opening up new options for cities to build more, particularly near transit and infrastructure. Thank you, Asm. Berman!

  7. If Newsom signs th bill, he will anger a huge voting block — homeowners. People invest their lives into their homes and Newsom and the other wokers misjudge the rage they will have over their neighborhoods being turned into commercial rental zones for Wall street.

  8. Berman leadership? He doesn’t even know what’s in the bills other than the one-page “fact sheet” (sales pitch) from the bill’s author. He votes the party line.

    Both SB9 and SB 10 have language that specifically overrides our State Constitution, which gives local government – the representatives you voted for – the right to “make and enforce all ordinances and regulations in respect to municipal affairs.” (Article XI, Section 5)

    SB9 and SB10 SPECIFICALLY take away that right as it applies to housing and planning. From the bill text: : “The Legislature finds and declares that ensuring access to affordable housing is a matter of statewide concern and not a municipal affair as that term is used in Section 5 of Article XI of the California Constitution. Therefore, Sections 1 and 2 of this act adding Sections 65852.21 and 66411.7 to the Government Code and Section 3 of this act amending Section 66452.6 of the Government Code apply to all cities, including charter cities.”

    Senate Constitutional Amendment 22 was passed to “enable the people … to reclaim legislative power” from special interests. It gives citizens the right to propose laws. SB10 takes away that right so Sacramento can dictate high density housing.

    Here are some other disturbing facts about SB9 and SB10 that I have not seen anywhere else, written by Cindy Montañez, current San Fernando City Councilmember, CEO of TreePeople, and former District 39 Assemblywoman.

    Get the facts, people! Neither of these bills requires or provides for AFFORDABLE housing. Splitting lots and putting more homes on each makes the land more expensive. Individuals will be bidding against investors looking to make a profit. Look at who’s donating to Scott Wiener: CA Association of Realtors, all the construction trade unions. Follow the money!

Comments are closed.