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California is not short on people, but many have a tough time finding an affordable place to live. The state’s housing crisis is particularly acute in cities such as San Francisco, so state senator Scott Weiner thought he would do something about it. He teamed with fellow senator Nancy Skinner to write SB 827, which changed zoning regulations to allow medium sized multi-unit buildings near transit stops. In the dense Bay Area, where commuting is a nightmare, this seemed a common-sense solution.
In “Smart Growth Housing Bill is a Game-Changer,” Robert Gannon argued that SB 827 would help the state meet its climate goals and help solve the housing shortage. Trouble is, “most cities, including Oakland and Berkeley, have longstanding laws that block smart growth, particularly in high-income neighborhoods. For years, these exclusionary zoning laws, backed by influential and wealthy NIMBYs (Not in My Backyard), have stymied transit-oriented development.” To the great surprise of Weiner, SB 827 drew furious opposition. The authors knocked down the minimum heights from eight stories to five in areas near transit hubs, but it was all for naught.
“Opposed by virtually every Californian in a position of power,” Henry Grabar argued in Slate,“Wiener’s bill failed in a Sacramento committee.” This was because the measure set out to “upend the entire framework for the past century of American racial politics and wealth building.” It was all about “gentrification and displacement,” and the wealthy opposing “communities of color.”
In Vox, Mathew Iglesias made a case that “there is plenty of room for more population density in California” and that “there’s simply no good alternative to increasing the quantity of dwellings available in the expensive parts of expensive metropolitan areas.” One solution would be by “re-legalizing market-rate construction,” but that won’t happen under the dominant ethos of BANANA, “Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone.” Politicians are inclining to rent control, but as affordable housing developer Scott Labarge argues, rent control will only worsen California’s housing crisis. And with the death of SB 827, Iglesias writes, “people will still find a place to live, but their life prospects will be permanently the worse for it.”