Opinion: For State Sen. Wiener, Nothing Exceeds Like Excess

State Senator Scott Wiener, (D-San Francisco) introduced SB 827 in early January to mandate 45- 85-foot tall buildings in your neighborhood. Yes, that’s right, if it passes SB 827 will mandate that any developer/ owner on ANY PIECE OF PROPERTY in West Hollywood can build a minimum 45- to 85-feet tall residential building depending on how wide your street is from curb to curb. That includes every property on Sunset Boulevard, Santa Monica Boulevard, every property on Melrose Avenue, every property on every side street, every property in every Eastside, Center City, Westside neighborhood. EVERY. SINGLE. PROPERTY.

No guarantee of additional affordable housing.

No design review.

No minimum parking required.

No questions asked.

According to different reports, California is immersed in one of the worst housing affordability crisis in the nation with rents rising far quicker than incomes. By some accounts, California needs more that 1.5 million new housing units just to meet current demand. Inventory shortages coupled with a constant increase in population have made for a volatile combination, leading to record homelessness and home prices and monthly rent values skyrocketing. In 2017, the California legislature placed special emphasis on the production of housing and how cities and counties process applications for development. The governor, who had unsuccessfully pushed for a by-right housing development law that would have obliterated local zoning ordinances, concurred with this narrative and signed most of those bills into law. West Hollywood is just beginning to understand how best to implement the 2017 laws and fold them into our General Plan vision. Clearly, we need to build more housing. And will.

Sen. Wiener looks to preempt cities’ and counties’ local zoning rules by granting density bonuses and concessions to developers above and beyond the current bonuses prescribed by law. In addition, SB 827 proposes additional concessions for “transit rich developments” within a half-mile radius of a major transit stop or a quarter-mile radius of a high-quality transit corridor, exempting them from maximum controls on residential density or floor area ratio, design standards that restrict the applicant’s ability to construct the maximum number of units consistent with any applicable building code, and maximum height limitations.

SB 827 covers 99.99% of the parcels in West Hollywood.

Senator Wiener writes, “SB 827 promotes this kind of housing (Transit Rich Housing) by prohibiting density restrictions (for example, local ordinances mandating only single-family homes) within a half mile of a major transit station or a quarter mile of a bus stop on a frequent bus line. The bill also sets the maximum-zoned height in these areas at 45, 55, or 85 feet - that is, between 4 and 8 stories- depending on the nature of the street. (Those heights are maximums. Developers can choose to build shorter, but cities can’t force them to build shorter through restrictive zoning. Cities can allow taller heights, however.)”

SB 827 also removes minimum parking requirements. That means that any and all of these buildings could be built with no parking at all. Take a look at the SB 827 development overlay map prepared by the city’s Community Development Department. It shows bus stops and the quarter-mile housing mandate radius overlay. It covers 99.99% of the parcels in our city.

If you take into consideration that the total area of West Hollywood is only about 1.9 square miles, and that the width of our city in some areas is only about three or four blocks wide, the impact of this bill will mean — at the very least — SB 827 Wiener-buildings in your neighborhood and every neighborhood across the city. With no parking spaces and no guarantee of additional affordable housing.

This bill has the potential to destroy our urban village. Full stop. And communities all across Southern California; or worse, simply open up development to an ad-hoc collection of mismatched, mis-sized projects with no relationship to our stated city goals. We broke away from the Los Angeles County bureaucracy because of their lack of vision in the 1970’s. Wiener’s northern California solution to the San Francisco region’s housing problem can’t be to destroy Southern California neighborhoods.

Senator Wiener’s Transit Rich Housing ignores the very Californians who have already made their choices about the kinds of urban neighborhoods they want and want to live in. Neighborhoods across the Southern California have already begun to protest the radical effects of this bill as can be seen here and here. And in the case of West Hollywood neighborhoods (we have a population density that is 17th greatest in the nation) our city’s density will increase some but our city cannot absorb a 50%, or even 100% increase in density as this bill proposes. WeHo is followed closely by San Francisco in density, but few of us want West Hollywood to look like San Francisco. And we don’t have the kind of transit and water/ sewer infrastructure that San Francisco and the East Bay have.

Top 25 U.S. cities in terms of population density. (Source: Wikipedia)

This bill is unacceptable as written. We understand its intention to jumpstart housing production near transit nodes and to help solve the housing crisis statewide. But we don’t have to destroy the village to save it. We have worked too hard to balance the desire for neighborhood stability, affordable housing, rent-controlled units and future-looking, sustainable development to let a Sacramento mandate crush our efforts. We would propose that Sen. Wiener consider the following and amend his bill:

–Limit this bill to no more that 25% of any city’s land area – targeting the transit corridors – to protect neighborhoods

–Cities with 20% inclusionary housing policies would be exempt

–Cities that reach their required RHNA numbers three years in a row would be exempt

–Cities with densities far above the median would be exempt

–Cities that are our size (smaller than five square miles) would be exempt

–These development may not cause the eviction or “Ellis-ing” of rent controlled/rent stabilized tenants

–Single family R-1 zoned neighborhoods would be exempt

We fully expect that other Westside cities will have many of the same concerns. The City of Beverly Hills has already taken a stand against this bill.

The City Council staff is monitoring this bill, and we have been working with our legislative analyst to prepare a white paper to assist Sen. Wiener in understanding how hard we have worked and how supportive we have been to the creation of housing, affordable and market rate, and how important our community is to our residents.

Please take a moment to let us all know your thoughts about this bill. You can write us at ccouncil@weho.org You might also want to send your thoughts to Assemblymember Richard Bloom assemblymember.bloom@assembly.ca.gov and Sen. Ben Allen senator.allen@senate.ca.gov who will have a say on this bill as it works its way through the Legislature.

Post Script

Here’s the most important part of the bill’s language (the entire bill is here):

(b) Notwithstanding any local ordinance, general plan element, specific plan, charter, or other local law, policy, resolution, or regulation, a transit-rich housing project shall receive a transit-rich housing bonus which shall exempt the project from all of the following:

(1) Maximum controls on residential density or floor area ratio.

(2) Minimum automobile parking requirements.

(3) Any design standard that restricts the applicant’s ability to construct the maximum number of units consistent with any applicable building code.

(4) (A) If the transit-rich housing project is within either a one-quarter mile radius of a high-quality transit corridor or within one block of a major transit stop, any maximum height limitation that is less than 85 feet, except in cases where a parcel facing a street that is less than 45 feet wide from curb to curb, in which case the maximum height shall not be less than 55 feet. If the project is exempted from the local maximum height limitation, the governing height limitation for a transit-rich housing project shall be 85 feet or 55 feet, as provided in this subparagraph.

(B) If the transit-rich housing project is within one-half mile of a major transit stop, but does not meet the criteria specified in subparagraph (A), any maximum height limitation that is less than 55 feet, except in cases where a parcel facing a street that is less than 45 feet wide from curb to curb, in which case the maximum height shall not be less than 45 feet. If the project is exempted from the local maximum height limitation, the governing height limitation for a transit-rich housing project shall be 55 feet or 45 feet, as provided in this subparagraph.

Opinion pieces such as this reflect the opinion of the author and not necessarily that of West Hollywood Media Company or WEHOville unless they carry the byline of publisher and editor Henry E. (Hank) Scott.


26 Comments
  1. I couldn’t be more against this. Passing a bill like this could really damage the essence and charm of West Hollywood. West Hollywood is a very unique and diverse neighborhood and all development should be reviewed and passed only based on what solves the problem of housing and is harmonious with the local neighborhoods.

  2. Who’s advising Weiner, Bannon? His absolutes are absurd. Sure, some elements of housing in certain areas could be adjusted, for example the new Inglewood stadium could have been an oval structure surrounded by affordable micro-housing (instant adjacent employee housing!): thousands of units. And warehouse districts areas makes sense. Inland So Cal has far more underdeveloped land. How about El Toro? Just as bars should be open until 3am Friday and Saturday nights only, only some expansion, like height incentives for preserving historic buildings, should be considered. This bill is a pox on the Southland.

  3. Already too dense and too many cars. More of THAT is certainly not the answer. Look to the future when we will, out of necessity, have to solve the transportation problem. Think- self-driving vehicles, subways, and bicycles, bicycles, bicycles! Maybe then people can live farther out of the city, yet still get into the city quickly. A 20 story building in the Cahuenga Pass? (of course, only with non-polluting vehicles below)

    1. One recent flaw just revealed is that expected ridership on transit is not happening. The sub prime car loan industry has put more cars on the road than ever and less are interested in transit. So building more housing near potential transit is a solution?

      Over population seems the elephant in the room that no one is able to see.

  4. Scott Weiner deserves to meet up with a modern day Jane Jacobs or a community of “Jane Jacobs” devotees who faced off with Robert Moses. Read “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” or view the film “Battle for the City”.

    NO! on Mr. Weiner and his misguided, well funded concept.

    YES! on the conscientious planning efforts of individual cities.

  5. If something is bad, then usually the opposite is bad also. Take things off the hook and allow developers to build at will everywhere and you get destruction of quality of life for all. Is that what people want?

    Some zoning is bad. Getting rid of all zoning is bad too. Seems like a very poor and reactionary piece of legislation.

  6. No questions asked? Talk about a violation of our First Amendment. Already unconstitutional. This provides no checks and balances and completely spits in the face of valuable community stakeholders (current residents).
    No design review? So you allow through new legislation a terminal cancer with too liberal limits (this proposed development) to grow in a community that consequently then can’t be treated or fought in the process. Killing the livability and quality of life of all who become infected by the development… with no chance for the system to work to their benefit. Design review can help point out areas for change that can produce a healthier and beneficial outcome for the majority. Design review can give us that chemo we need to change the course for a healthier outcome.
    This is not the way to responsible development in a united community like West Hollywood. This shackles and enslaves us all to be at the mercy of any developer who pays the right price… all while it disenfranchises us from our system that should help protect us. Epic fail here.

  7. Sen. Wiener’s bill is absolutely spot on. CALIFORNIA NEEDS MORE HOUSING. And if we are to live up to our commitments to reduce carbon emissions, we need more housing NEAR MASS TRANSIT. I’m sorry Councilmembers D’Amico and Meister feel like they’re losing their ‘urban village’. I’m sorry people are worried about their view or their parking or their aesthetic preferences. But those can’t be priorities right now. Those of us who live here without the incredible fortune of owning a building in California aren’t impressed with homeowner-dominated small towns’ incessant NIMBYism. I live and vote in West Hollywood and will monitor the city council’s response to this bill very carefully.

  8. Control of community development and zoning issues should not be taken out of the hands of local government. In a city like WeHo that is less than 2 square miles and has a high number of renters in rent-stabilized housing, what works elsewhere could be disastrous here. Yes, we need more housing built, but it should not be up to the State to dictate issues like density and parking requirements in every city.

  9. “We have worked too hard to balance the desire for neighborhood stability, affordable housing, rent-controlled units and future-looking, sustainable development to let a Sacramento mandate crush our efforts.”

    No, you haven’t. Pretty much no localities in the state have. Every tinpot-dictator city council that decided that they loved the low unemployment, but that the people working those jobs could live Somewhere Else, is part of the problem.

    You kvell and kvetch for years, requiring endless design reviews and palm-greasing ‘donations’ to local community organizations, underbuilding housing for decades on end. Well, no more.

    You had your chance to grow reasonably. The housing crisis is now unreasonable, and yet this bill is remarkably gentle. It doesn’t affect local rent laws, or local demolition controls, or inclusionary-zoning laws. It doesn’t mandate high-rises; at most, the buildings are eight stories tall; they’re mid-rises.

    Yes, the change will be faster than you’d like. It’s decades’ worth of growth in a few years, and the state desperately needs it. You’ll be okay. Really, you will.

  10. Thank you to Wehoville and the Council persons who etched this to keep us all informed and involved. This notion of unlimited development with zero boundaries should be flushed down the toilet.

  11. I agree with his position to a point. I agree Weho needs more housing, but we need more affordable housing. With the current City Council there will never be enough affordable housing because of the deals they make with Developers. I think we should close SMB at LaBrea to Doheny and make it all pedestrian like the Third Street Promanade in Santa Monica. Except for buses, allow no car traffic through West Hollywood. We need to encourage less cars in our City. People can just drive around us to get where they are going.

  12. Sen. Wiener’s SB 827 proposal is myopic and reckless.

    Never believe that hyper building of dense housing will solve the dilemma of over-population …..on the contrary, “If you build it they will come.”

    Let’s not aspire to be like Manhattan (more “housing” there has made that city unaffordable) and we should always do the OPPOSITE of what San Fransisco does.

    Wiener and SB 827, no bueno.

  13. The Office of Assemblymember Richard Bloom does want to hear from you about this and other legislation, but for reasons I’ve explained in the past, I ask that instead of using the assemblymember.bloom@assembly.ca.gov, please go directly to this link to enter your comments: https://lcmspubcontact.lc.ca.gov/PublicLCMS/ContactPopup.php?district=AD50

    Sending an email to the assemblymember.bloom@assembly.ca.gov will eventually be read, but comments entered through website will be read sooner and will get to the Assemblymember in time for him to review before he must weigh in on SB 827.

    Thank you!

  14. You missed a few things Wiener would end: the “esthetics” protection for communities under CEQA, which protect neighborhoods from digital billboards, would get tossed out. I’m sure it hasn’t escaped Wiener’s attention that donated billboard facetime is a real plus when running for statewide office. What do digital billboards have to do with creating housing? Absolutely nothing. Also: developers would be exempt from creating permanent shadow on their surroundings. And developers would be exempt from protecting famed viewsheds. Think Miami Beach. Ugly AND unaffordable.

  15. Not that we will all be around to see it, but it will be interesting to see how WeHo and SoCal develops in the next hundred years. I understand both sides of this density argument and Mr. Weiner’s bill is probably really about changing the car culture and the notion that this is the way it will always have to be here. The densification has been happening since the beginning of modern history here. It’s just a matter of where and how fast–unless people stop coming here. Maybe we should build a wall….

  16. Unfortunately, Mr Wilion, the market is rigged (isn’t it?).

    There was a recent story here on pollution.
    I used to live near the 101. Since I moved 2.5 miles south and west, I cannot imagine why WeHo is as filthy as it is. It is dirtier here than it was in Hollywood.

    More building will increase the ambient pollution, which is pretty raunchy as it is.

    This is a terrible bill.

  17. “Senator Wiener’s Transit Rich Housing ignores the very Californians who have already made their choices about the kinds of urban neighborhoods they want and want to live in.”

    That’s the essence of the problem, if you have a better plan that will create millions of new housing units across the state, we’re all ears. However, the freakout concerning this bill is somewhat reassuring, as the fears of TALL HOUSING GOING EVERYWHERE show that boomers/homeowners, at least reflexively, have an idea of just how bad this crisis is.

  18. Senator Wiener is living up to his name. This is obviously ridiculous and must be defeated as his other big wiener move…trying to keep bars open until 4am. Two great ways to destroy a neighborhood and its quality of life. Senator Wiener…you’re a big D_CK. (and I’m not thinkin’ DUCK).

  19. Greatgreat. bill avoids the fascist Weho city council that downzones property illegally and favors Russians and renters over landowners who are long time owners get rid restrictions and let market value conditions control. Limiting rooms to 1200 feet is joke to house a few more renters

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