April 2019 Town Hall Meeting - More on SB 50

Controversial bill garners many questions from audience
Sunday, May 12, 2019

The April 18th Town Hall was primarily devoted to a high-interest program: explaining California Senate Bill 50 – a bill to promote housing near train and ferry stops, along major bus routes, and in major job centers – and how it might affect Rockridge.  The program, expertly moderated by Ms. Kathleeen Cha of the Oakland League of Women Voters, featured a presentation by Bob Gammon, former East Bay Express reporter and editor and now communications director for State Senator Nancy Skinner.  (Darin Ranelletti, formerly Acting Director of Oakland’s Planning and Building Department and now Special Assistant on Housing Security to Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf – a supporter of the bill – had also been slated to appear to talk about the bill’s application to Oakland, but came down with a severe case of flu that morning and had to cancel.)  The bill, primarily authored by Senator Scott Wiener of San Francisco but co-authored by Senator Skinner and Assembly Member Buffy Wicks among others, proposes increased height and density limits in the designated areas.  (See Diagram below - click on picture to view at full size)Map of SB 50 as applied to Rockridge, which shows how it would apply to Rockridge.)  The bill, like its predecessor SB 827, has proved highly controversial, with many local governments, including the Los Angeles City Council and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, as well as tenant and local neighborhood groups, expressing opposition; while chambers of commerce, major labor unions and groups promoting housing development support the bill.  (As with SB 827, affordable housing advocates are split.)

To say the bill is complex is an understatement.  Mr. Gammon struggled to explain its many provisions, including various exceptions, special features, and alternative options. For example, the bill eliminates current density limits in areas covered, but only increases height limits in areas near train and ferry stations – not along bus routes, and only along bus lines with rush hour frequencies of no less than every ten minutes and only within areas less than ¼ mile from a bus stop.  It generally requires compliance with other zoning requirements, but give the developer three “waivers, concessions or incentives” addressed to those requirements – e.g., reducing or eliminating otherwise-required minimum setbacks or yard areas, or maximum height limits.  It also limits the off-street parking requirement to no more than 1 parking space per two units along bus lines, and totally eliminates off-street parking requirements within a ½ mile radius of train/ferry stations.

Mr. Gammon was peppered with questions from skeptical audience members. He had to acknowledge that there were some he couldn’t answer, especially those specifically asking about the bill’s potential effects on Rockridge.  Those questions are being forwarded to Mr. Ranelletti, and his answers will be printed in the June issue of the Rockridge News.

The bill is still rapidly changing.  A week after the Town Hall, at a Senate Finance Committee hearing, the bill was amended in two significant ways: to reduce its impact on “small” coastal counties (population less that 600,000 [e.g., Marin, Sonoma, Santa Cruz, Mendocino, Humboldt]); but, on the other hand to allow four-plexes in existing structures or on vacant lots in all residentially-zoned areas statewide.  The bill’s text, analyses, and current status can be viewed on the web at:  https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov by searching for SB 50.  While the bill is advancing rapidly, there are still opportunities for public feedback through Mr. Wiener’s, Ms. Skinner’s and Ms. Wicks’ local legislative offices as well as through legislative committee offices.

A report on the RCPC Land Use Committee’s discussion of the bill appears under Land Use Committee Update ., which appears as an accompanying article.

* - Questions that Mr. Gammon was unwilling or unable to answer have been forwarded to Mr. Ranelletti.  Responses will appear in the June issue of the Rockridge News.