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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org You might also want to send your thoughts to Assemblymember Richard Bloom email@example.com and Sen. Ben Allen firstname.lastname@example.org who will have a say on this bill as it works its way through the Legislature.
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.