S.B. 827 News: Rules Cmte Affirms Need to Address Housing Crisis; Says No to Sacramento’s Approach

Staff cite disproportionate impact on disenfranchised communities of color, HPOZs; Wesson cites importance of civic engagement in planning

Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The Rules, Election, and Intergovernmental Relations Committee today voted to approve the Resolution from city councilmember David Ryu (CD4) and seconded by Herb Wesson (CD10) to oppose State Senate Bill (S.B.) 827. The bill, which would allow for significant upzoning within a half-mile of a train station or a quarter-mile of a major bus/transit stop and would exempt those new developments from parking requirements, has come under fire for the extent to which it overrides local control over development.

Some of the opposition to the bill borders on the I-got-mine-so-go-away-peasant (IGMSGAP) approach to planning, like that espoused in the public comment period by Beachwood Canyon resident Christine O’Brien, who is perhaps best known for arguing to revoke access to the Hollywood sign because tourists were pooping in her flower pots and destroying the Hollywood Hills’ microclimate. She emphatically declared S.B. 827 was neither logical nor appropriate, given our weather and diverse geography, while also referencing earthquakes, mudslides, fires, typhoons, and floods, but not locusts. Another member of that school (and four homeowners’ associations), Amy Galaudet, argued that people like herself chose to live in “quiet and quaint” sanctuaries that could provide “refuge” in a “time of crisis and chaos” and would not abide by a bill that uprooted everything they had believed was stable or that allowed developers to do “whatever they want[ed]” next door to people’s homes.

Neither seemed aware that the bill would, in fact, likely not touch their communities because of how effective the larger IGMSGAP crowd has been at limiting transit expansion through their neighborhoods and/or because they were able to purchase homes far enough off the beaten path to be out of transit’s reach.

It is the clout of the IGMSGAP crowd that is, in great part, the impetus behind S.B. 827. For too long, wealthy homeowners have had the power to curb growth up and down the state, but especially in urban areas where job and population growth are far outpacing housing production.

And while curbing the power of the IGMSGAP crowd to veto growth is indeed a most urgent imperative, as some who spoke to oppose S.B. 827 (including city staff) pointed out today, the fact that the zoning changes are tied to transit lines means that, here in Los Angeles, it is disproportionately lower-income communities of color that will be affected by the bill.

Sofia Guerra from the Coalition for Economic Survival (CES) argued it would undo the years of work CES and other community groups had put into protecting rent control and preserving affordable housing for lower-income residents of color. She understood the need for more housing overall, she said, but believed that the “unamendable” bill would accelerate evictions and accelerate gentrification, all without producing much in the way of affordable housing for her community.

Asiyahola Sankara of ACT-LA, the coalition of dozens of community-based organizations steeped in housing, jobs, health, education, and transportation that has already written a letter in opposition to the bill, said they opposed S.B. 827 because it diminished the important and carefully considered strides that had been made in putting together Measure JJJ (the 2016 bill tying labor and affordable housing requirements or in-lieu fees to entitlements for development around transit). The coalition agreed with the overall goal of getting people out of their cars and onto transit, but argued that housing near transit therefore had to remain affordable for those who used it most – namely, residents of lower-income communities of color whose incomes reside far below the poverty line.

Equity needed to be centered for the bill to truly address those folks’ array of needs, Sankara concluded. S.B. 827 had not done that.

If S.B. 827 was truly intended to protect lower-income communities, said Greg Bonett of Public Counsel, picking up on that point, then it should have led with tenant protections and led with affordable housing preservation and production. Instead, he said, the bill makes no distinction between exclusionary neighborhoods and those at-risk for displacement, and only included those protections as amendments – essentially acknowledging they were an afterthought.

“If Senator Wiener [sponsor of the bill] wants to address exclusionary neighborhoods,” Bonett said, “he should focus on those neighborhoods, not enact a policy that will harm the very residents that those neighborhoods historically excluded.”

Joe Donlin of Strategic Actions for a Just Economy and the UNIDAD Coalition spoke to how hard South L.A. had been hit by the foreclosure crisis and the extent to which it had left the community vulnerable to exploitation by firms that continued to snap up properties. The bill, in essence, would give them an opportunity to cash in on their investments, hastening displacement.

The Crenshaw Line community was particularly vulnerable, Damien Goodmon of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition argued, because of the creeping gentrification already underway thanks to speculation tied to the 2019 arrival of the train. The upzoning of the very corridor running through the heart of the ever-dwindling black community had the potential to significantly transform the area. He would not have fought to see transit built there, he declared, if he had believed it was going to be part of a larger urban renewal effort that would result in the ouster of his community.

He sympathized with the severe job-housing imbalance experienced by areas like Silicon Valley, he said, but argued the cost to South L.A. was just too high. Especially because wealthier transit-poor areas, including some of those suburbs around Silicon Valley, would still remain largely beyond the bill’s reach.

Few spoke up against the resolution and in favor of the bill.

Two representatives of regional coalitions – the Business Industry Association (BIA) and the Two Hundred (advocating for lower-income Latino homeownership) – spoke on the importance of adding to the housing stock to improve affordability for all and expressed disappointment that, as Christine Rangel of the BIA argued, the city was essentially saying it didn’t “want” housing. Others, like Abundant Housing L.A., sent letters.

The shortage of voices present in favor of the bill was, in part, due to the fact that opposition to it is so wide-ranging. But the other reason is that Wesson cut public comment short in favor of hearing from city staff, disappointing at least one Yes In My Backyard (YIMBY) advocate who didn’t get the chance to speak.

Aarthi Varma of the Department of City Planning said that while the department did not take a position on the bill, its potential to have significant and far-reaching impacts on L.A.’s diverse communities meant that they would continue to assess it. Their initial observations, however, she said, were that the bill would need to respect the basic form of the city. Meaning, the city would want to retain design review authority so that growth honored existing development patterns, particularly with regard to L.A.’s historic preservation overlay zones (HPOZ).

Despite the fact that only two percent of the city’s acreage was classified as HPOZ, 96 percent of it would be subject to S.B. 827. The bill would allow cities to review demolitions, but had not carved out protections in reference to design guidelines or historic preservation.

The other issue, Varma said, was that while the amendments to the bill did include some protections for renters, it did not address the question of indirect displacement – a significant issue given the disproportionate impact the bill would have on underserved communities of color.

In response to the request from Jill Stewart of the Coalition to Preserve L.A. that the council create a map* showing the projected impacts of the bill, planner Ken Bernstein said that the city was currently working on just such a project in an attempt to better understand the bill’s effects. [*Stewart had spoken of what she described as “competing maps” laying out which communities were most likely to be affected and questioned whether impacts on the Valley had been adequately captured by Sasha Aickin’s map (here). She suggested CSUN professor David Deis’ map (here) offered a more accurate alternative.]

Finally, John Wickham of the Chief Legislative Analyst’s (CLA) office warned that any time the council would need to address local zoning issues, they would have to go through Sacramento, which was why the CLA had come down in favor of the resolution to oppose the bill. [See that brief report here.]

In closing discussion on the bill, Wesson seemed intent on communicating that he understood the urgency of the housing crisis. He also said that he had spoken to Wiener personally and believed the senator’s interest in alleviating the crisis was sincere.

Harkening back to a point raised by an earlier speaker from his district, however, he reiterated the crucial role of civic engagement in planning.

The question of “civic engagement” – sometimes a code for “local control” – is, of course, a double-edged sword. On one hand, it has granted disproportionate power to the IGMSGAP crowd, perpetuating stasis. Indeed, those voices are the impetus behind the decision of councilmember Ryu – whose relatively wealthy district has limited proximity to transit hubs – to put forth such a resolution. But on the other, this is a moment when historically disenfranchised communities here in L.A. have gained some genuine traction – they are finally being heard on their own terms and are continuing to build power. S.B. 827 threatens to squelch those voices just as they have claimed their seat at the table.

It is entirely possible that Wesson – a councilmember whose district covers some of the neighborhoods in L.A.’s historically black community, including some of its wealthier enclaves – had both in mind as he made his concluding remarks. He did not, however, elaborate on which had swayed him.

“We, as a city, need to step up and we need to be engaged, and we need to deal with our housing crisis, and we have to stop putting it off,” he concluded. “But it is our responsibility.”

With that, he called for approval of the CLA findings and the resolution to oppose the bill.

Listen to the full committee hearing here; see related documents here. There is no word yet on when the resolution will be heard before the full city council.

  • davantage

    Please keep the current progressive programs going in LA for another 25 years. The laws passed in LA in the name of protecting people of color since the 1970s have worked amazingly well. Let’s add even more ‘progressive’ laws to accelerate the process.

    https://knock-la.com/los-angeles-is-quickly-becoming-a-place-exclusively-for-the-white-and-rich-c585953e0614

  • Asher Of LA

    SF is a bastion of progressivism, isn’t that the objective?

  • Asher Of LA

    “We, as a city, need to step up and we need to be engaged, and we need to deal with our housing crisis, and we have to stop putting it off,” he concluded. “But it is our responsibility.”

    Toddler: “This is my candy addiction, and I need to stop eating fruit roll-ups for dinner. But that’s my responsibility! No matter how much I screw this up, at no time should an adult step in!”

  • Earl D.

    Implicit in all the arguments against 827 are that the bill will work, i.e. it will create a lot more housing. Given the overwhelming crisis that CA’s state-wide, persistent housing scarcity has caused, with the impoverishment of millions of the state’s residents and vast disfiguring urban sprawl, the burden of proof is put squarely on the detractors to demonstrate that their proposed solutions will perform at least as well in creating housing.
    Since opponents aren’t even making the claim that they know how to create a comparable quantity of housing with alternate legislation let alone address the concerns they have with 827, it’s imperative that we not allow this legislation be stymied by the bruised egos of local parochialism.

  • IGMSGAP! He he, I like that!

    The concern about historic preservation is misplaced. SB 827 doesn’t alter anything with regard to CEQA, and you have to prepare an environmental document if you are proposing to alter the significance of a historic resource. Indeed from my YIMBY perspective, this is one of the bill’s flaws. Local governments will find whatever ways they can to hold on to the maximum amount of local control and deny projects they don’t like. It’s like whack a mole whenever Sacramento passes a pro-housing law.

    SB 827 is very ambitious and may very well fail. If that happens, the question then becomes how’s the status quo working for low income people and people of color?

    I’m an existing homeowner. NIMBYism raises my property values. I’ve got mine, but I am concerned about other people and wish there were more housing. You know, #IGMBIACAOPAWTWMH.

  • Darren

    The amended version of the law offers substantial protections of local control in matters related to affordable/rent-controlled housing. It will not override local inclusionary housing requirements/density bonuses, or local rules against demolishing rent-controlled units.

    https://medium.com/@Scott_Wiener/sb-827-amendments-strengthening-demolition-displacement-protections-4ced4c942ac9

  • 1976boy

    Progressive? Hardly. The current rules against housing and the downzoning efforts have been promulgated by conservatives. No matter that they might vote Democratic, they are still conservatives.

  • AndreL

    If very low income housing advocates like Sarah Sulleiman keep pushing this agenda against people who are just middle class, younger than average and more educated than average, trying to stick on them the failures of multidecade housing policies, it should come as no surprise if the YIMBY crowd start attacking housing-for-the poorest activists and their platforms for their misguided “Bus rider union”-esque views. There is no sensible argument to prevent densification around transit nodes in California’s three largest metroplex areas. So now you have the IGMSGAP teaming up with those supposed to be just pushing platforms (like a halt to rail expansion or a halt to bike lanes) out of what they call desperation with housing costs. This alliance will backfire and will shut down these voices for years as mere stooge of the anti development rich ones.

  • LAdevelop

    These criticisms of SB 827 are irrelevant… the bill as it is today includes very strong protections from displacement. Yes, they should have been explicitly included in the first draft, but they’re in there now, and that’s what matters. Also, demolition of rent controlled, low income, and historic structures will still be subject to local controls. So what’s the problem here??

    It seems like people are looking for whatever reasons they can to oppose this bill. I wish SB would take a firmer stand in favor of it. It is THE ONLY legitimate solution to the housing crisis that has been proposed at any level of government so far in California.

  • Nancy Johnson

    “it should have led with tenant protections and led with affordable housing preservation and production.” That undermines the entire purpose of the bill which is to make it easier to develop higher density. They need to eliminate those restrictions on development so owners can tear down one and two story buildings and build them up to higher density.

  • jannos

    These council people obviously spent no time actually reading the bill or its amendments. Its very clear that this will benefit people with less means but they are responding to the desires of their wealthier land-owning constituents.

  • crazyvag

    Since status quo hasn’t worked well, let’s try something new.

  • Earl D.

    I wish SB would take a firmer stand in favor of it.

    I agree. CA’s housing crisis is the issue facing CA cities. Nothing else comes close. They’re doing their mission a disservice by continuing to present the issue of residential construction as if there were really two sides to the issue: build more and not build more.

    To borrow a phrase from an issue not totally unrelated: the science is clear. Those opposed to residential construction and therefor opposed to 827 are ignorant or they’re being intellectually dishonest in pursuit of an agenda.

  • Burt Goralnick.

    The state should stay out of LA’s business

  • davantage

    This is an extraordinarily long article about the powerful committee of two. I will be publishing my position and analysis on the Russian spy situation shortly.

    In the mean time, keep doing what you’ve done so well for people of color in LA:

    https://knock-la.com/los-angeles-is-quickly-becoming-a-place-exclusively-for-the-white-and-rich-c585953e0614

  • The status quo but led by people who aren’t as rich!

  • Completely agree. Furthermore, I get that this is SBLA and many LA-focused groups are opposed to it, but SB 827 isn’t about just LA, it’s about the entire state. Outside of LA, precious few communities have existing renter protections, so renters face displacement and rising rents in communities that in many ways, are extremely loath to approve new housing. The tenant protections included in SB 827 would be far stronger than what currently exists just about anywhere, which is a huge win for renters statewide.

  • There is no sensible argument to prevent densification around transit nodes in California’s three largest metroplex areas.

    I’d point out that SB 827 is a statewide, not just limited to the three metros. There are plenty of areas with qualifying transit outside of LA, SD, and SF. Many of those communities are mostly just interested in surrounding their transit with parking lots, but SB 827 would provide the opportunity to cut through the red tape and provide some real opportunities and potentially revitalize communities. This is doubly important because those who get pushed out of the biggest cities are settling in this “second-tier” communities and in turn, driving up rents there that are pushing those residents out.

  • The most amazing thing about SB 827 is that it has succeeded in getting the very people who are most impacted by NIMBYs in big cities to stand up for those same NIMBYs against a solution that would take a lot of power away from NIMBYs to the benefit of the commons. Or to put it succinctly, it has made NIMBYs out of the anti-NIMBY groups and pitted the disenfranchised in the biggest cities against the disenfranchised throughout the rest of the state.

    Since there are currently no other realistic options on the table, the choices are SB 827 or status quo. Last I checked, the status quo isn’t working out very well for a whole lot of people. This is especially true outside of the big cities, where rents are also rising and displacing people. In those communities, SB 827 would be absolutely phenomenal because most of them would take decades (if ever) to arrive at allowing the level of development to occur around transit that SB 827 would provide. Yet, they’re places where in some instances, there are acres of empty lots along frequent transit lines that could support development tomorrow, but the local zoning isn’t favorable.

    SB 827 would also be phenomenal in the suburbs because it provides renter protections that simply do not exist in most communities around the state as only 14 of the more than 400 cities and counties in the state actually have rent control. It’s not a stretch to say that the right-of-return language in SB 827 is far stronger than practically anything at any municipal level anywhere in the state and is absolutely transformative in most of them. Meanwhile, the ability to bring substantially more housing to the market for much lower prices than in the bigger cities will keep competition healthy and rents down. But without SB 827, that doesn’t happen.

  • Kevin Withers

    “Since there are currently no other realistic options on the table, the choices are SB 827 or status quo.”

    Wrong attitude. Something like sb827 is a sledgehammer approach. Interested parties need to work out a proposal that actually contains intelligent, consensus driven improvements. It’s not all or nothing, and if that’s the approach, it fails, as it looks like will happen. Sen Wiener’s top down, one size fits all state dictate reflects a rookie-amateur legislative move.

  • If SB 827 is bad, then amend it. That has been done once to add protections that I’ve already pointed out are a gigantic step forward in most communities around the state, but if more is still needed, amend it again. Opposition out of spite due to not being contacted first is selfishness at its worst because the longer it takes for more supply to come online, the more people there are getting squeezed out of their living situation.

  • Kevin Withers

    If SB827 is bad, don’t pass it. It’s not this bill or nothing. Perhaps someone other than developer funded, SF-based Sen Wiener would have better results in corralling consensus. Legislation matters, and knee-jerk bills like SB827 deserve to fail.

    Housing affordability problems are prevalent outside of California and outside of USA, but in CA, advocacy groups seem to think the issue is unique, and try to blame zoning and prop 13. Ludicrous. Same dynamic is in play in other areas, and due to population increases, cost of housing will not be going down. That’s called reality.

  • AndreL

    It is not possible to get consensus because you have a substantial minority of people who desperately want to keep their piece of CA and send everybody else to other states. The type that whine on why don’t Facebook or Google move thousands of workers to Detroit or Cleveland and just “go away”… they might be wealthier homeowners or the poorest demographic groups but they are both aligned against middle class interests and agaisnt younger non rich professionals (but not lowmincome either) and I think only a heavy handed state law and break this counterintuitive anti-housing partnership.

  • Kevin Withers

    A consensus meaning a majority opinion. If it’s indeed a minority of people opposed, shouldn’t be a problem. However, reality suggest only a minority support something as heavy handed as SB827. And state legislators are elected locally, thankfully, and SB827 is an outright attack on local input and municipalities.

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