New bill by Senators Wiener & Skinner would transform Rockridge (and the East Bay

Much of Lower Rockridge would be open to 5-story buildings, and off-street parking requirements would disappear.
Friday, January 26, 2018

Following up on their success last year in passing SB 35 (see Land Use Committee Update article for January 2018), State Senators Scott Wiener (San Francisco) and Nancy Skinner (Oakland/Berkeley) have introduced a new bill, SB 827, intended to address California's housing crisis.  The bill would create a "transit-rich housing bonus" that would apply to areas near transit stations or "high quality transit corridors" (bus service at least every 15 minutes during peak travel hours).  In those areas, local zoning height limits would be replaced by height limits ranging from 45 to 85 feet (four to eight stories), all off-street parking requirements would be abolished, multi-family housing would automatically be allowed, and any design requirement that would interfere with buildng high-density housing would be overridden.

The bill would continue a trend in the Legislature over the past several years to legislatively dictate local land use policy to achieve housing and other state-wide goals.  For a look at the state-wide effects the bill would have, got to this site, which has a map of how it would affect cities throughout California.  San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley would be the Bay Area cities most affected, but many parts of Los Angeles and San Diego would also be transformed.  In all these cities, single-family homes and neighborhoods could largely become a thing of the past.

In Rockridge (see map above), most of Lower Rockridge and Temescal would have heights ranging from 85 feet, along the frontages of streets at least 45 feet across, to 55 feet, within 1/4 mile of the 51 and 1 bus lines, to 45 feet, for areas within a 1/2 mile radius of the BART station.  How much things would actually change would depend on how many property owners would decide to take advantage of the new height limits and relaxed requirements.  Perhaps significantly, the bill does not, at present, require that any of the new housing be affordable, and its unclear whether this transit-rich bonus could be coupled to the State's existing affordable housing density bonus of up to 35%.  If so, even taller building could be built almost by right, so long as they included some affordable units.   For example,11-story buildings could go in along streets such as Broadway, Claremont and Telegraph Avenues.  If passed in its present form, the bill could lead to a Rockridge that would look a lot like some parts of Brooklyn.

The new Wiener/Skinner bill has not yet been heard in committee, but already Berkeley Mayor Jesse Areguin and some LA civic leaders have come out in opposition to it.