By Fernando Marti, Peter Cohen and Maya Chupkov
California cities need fair, location-based planning, and we hope that the bills put forward by lawmakers will help promote, not undermine, local community planning.
In January, legislators will use two such proposals, Senate Draft 50 and Assembly Draft 1279. SB 50 increases density and elevation in “passable” areas that focus on urban core areas, while AB 1279 is low density and “high”. Opportunity “neighborhoods and suburbs. Both bills have been the subject of heated debate in housing justice circles across the state.
Last Thursday, the San Francisco board of directors heard a resolution calling for material changes to SB 50.
Why should we care in San Francisco?
State intervention laws like this have been criticized by conservative suburbs who feared change, and this has drawn most of the media attention, but also from progressive communities engaged in promoting gentrification and displacement, giveaways for private developers and the Eliminate local business deal opportunity for pro-density community planning. This type of blanket state intervention could be terrible for our San Francisco communities if not done properly.
SB 50 sponsors have already reached a practical compromise by making changes to merge the bill with another Marin / North Bay bill, effectively excluding smaller towns.
Similarly, potential negative impacts on urban communities could be addressed in draft laws such as SB 50 and AB 1279. Addressing this impact could push them through with the support of advocates for affordable, dense, and anti-sales measures. Right now, many months of the legal profession since last spring have not resulted in necessary changes, and home justice attorneys from Los Angeles to San Francisco and Fresno to Sacramento have taken positions against the law unless changed.
Is there a solution?
What changes could cause urban communities to drop their opposition?
The bills must protect vulnerable communities. This can be achieved by permanently releasing “sensitive communities” from market-driven development incentives in the bills. In San Francisco, the working class and communities of color exposed to gentrification and displacement are located in some of the fastest developing neighborhoods. This would in no way exclude a new development in poor areas – in most cases these are already “hot” real estate areas. But it would discourage the state from giving rewards and incentives to promote luxury housing in vulnerable areas. How these communities identify themselves and how they are assigned is crucial: people live in entire communities, not in census areas.
The invoices must ensure an appropriate “recording of value” for affordable housing. Upzoning should be a tool to increase affordability, not just to increase property value. This is how HOME-SF was built in San Francisco, starting with the existing urban housing requirements to increasing affordability based on the amount of density or height added.
These bills should build on density measures won by local communities, such as the HOME SF policy, the recent city-wide rededication of Proposition E in San Francisco, and the “TOC” program in Los Angeles, which increases affordability net increases with density.
Cities have to plan for growth. This can be achieved by allowing communities to organize and prepare local plans to improve housing development while preventing displacement. The exclusion of sensitive neighborhoods from the market-driven development incentives of these bills should in no way be an excuse for cities to stop the density: municipalities need to expand housing with mixed income. State laws like AB 1279 and SB 50 can be a necessary threat to get recalcitrant suburban cities to plan rather than block density.
In contrast to the cities, where the housing markets are stagnating, either due to zone restrictions, market conditions or a combination of the three, many urban core cities are already achieving the state’s residential goals in line with the market. What these hot market cities need are resources and sufficient time for local, location-based, but content-related planning.
Portland and Minneapolis are already doing this with plans that make contextual changes in density and elevation to promote a mix of housing and affordability. And where local community plans have already been passed and are working, as several have done in San Francisco, they should be exempt from intervention by state bills.
The state can help cities plan density with affordability if done correctly.
The resolution calling for these and other changes to SB 50 has many co-sponsors on the board and is expected to be heard by the full board for approval on Tuesday, December 17th.
Fernando Marti and Peter Cohen are both co-directors of the Council of Community Housing Organizations (CCHO) in San Francisco, the coalition of 24 affordable developers, service providers and lawyers in San Francisco. Maya Chupkov is CCHO’s communications director.
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