Los Angeles City Council Votes Unanimously to Oppose S.B. 827

But some councilmembers signal possible ways forward

Councilmember Paul Koretz claimed S.B. 827 would "destroy the city" Tuesday at a hearing for a resolution to oppose the bill.
Councilmember Paul Koretz claimed S.B. 827 would "destroy the city" Tuesday at a hearing for a resolution to oppose the bill.

The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously Tuesday morning for a resolution opposing State Senate Bill (S.B.) 827, the bill authored by State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) that would override local zoning near transit to allow for denser housing.

The resolution — introduced by Councilmembers David Ryu and Herb Wesson — is just the latest twist in the ongoing fight over Wiener’s bill, which has drawn opposition from the usual anti-development crowds, including the Coalition to Preserve L.A., the group that brought us Measure S, as well as equity organizations like ACT-LA. Unlike the Coalition to Preserve L.A. and other reflexively anti-development groups, ACT-LA and other equity and tenant protection organizations have opposed S.B. 827 over concerns that it could have the unintended consequence of exacerbating displacement in vulnerable neighborhoods.

While it’s not surprising that the city council would oppose the bill — arguably the most aggressive attempt in recent memory by Sacramento to take away control of land use decisions from local governments — the debate included nuanced discussion from some of the city’s most pro-housing and progressive councilmembers and offers a glimpse at possible paths forward in addressing the state’s dire housing shortage.

“This is a bad bill, but it is an absolutely unsurprising bill,” said Councilmember Mike Bonin. “This bill was inevitable because our current system is, in some ways, as bad as this bill. Our current system does not protect against gentrification and displacement. Our current system is also not providing the affordable housing that we need for our next generation, for our children, and for the people who are moving here.”

Bonin noted that Sacramento will continue to try to erode local control of planning until Los Angeles gets a handle on the housing shortage.

He called on Sacramento to fix the Ellis Act and to repeal Costa-Hawkins. And he said unambiguously that Los Angeles needs more housing, especially affordable housing.

“Los Angeles’ population is not going to shrink,” he said, calling for the city to approach the process of updating local community plans with the question, Where are people going to live?

“We can’t freeze our city in amber and pretend we don’t need more housing,” Bonin said. “But we also can’t blow up our neighborhoods and bury it beneath the Sacramento overreach that is at the heart of this bill.”

Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell echoed his colleague’s sentiments and called for a bill that has “ironclad” tenant protections. He added the need for reforming the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which he noted is often used as it was not intended–to delay good projects.

Councilmember Joe Buscaino said, “I appreciate the catalyst that this bill is trying to accomplish, but it’s too blunt a tool as it’s currently written.”

He encouraged staff to continue working with Wiener’s office to make it a better bill.

“While few cities are trying to tackle the problem, too many others have their head in the sand and are ignoring the problem [and] pushing the burden on to other cities,” he said.

“We’re failing to build enough housing in both big cities and small,” he said, but he likened S.B. 827 to taking a “chainsaw” instead of scalpel to a patient.

Councilmember José Huizar said the substance of S.B. 827 “makes sense.” But, he added, the bill gives away too much without incentivizing affordable housing.

“The affordable housing component should have been the driving force for this,” Huizar said.

Huizar reiterated that the status quo was not desirable, either, and he worried that the process by which the city is updating its community plans would simply continue to be a mechanism by which wealthy communities would protect themselves from future growth and force housing, especially affordable housing, into the communities that have historically taken on most of the burden.

Still, he said, “the intent of this bill is good.”

S.B. 827 has yet to have its first committee meeting, which will likely happen in the next couple of weeks. Still, the bill has generated much discussion and grabbed many headlines due, in part, to the overblown rhetoric surrounding it.

Councilmember Paul Koretz said at Tuesday’s hearing that the bill would “destroy the city.”

And at a Rules Committee meeting on the resolution last week, councilmembers heard from some members of the public who claimed that building more housing was incompatible with Los Angeles’ weather. Others argued that it would destroy the “quiet and quaint” neighborhoods.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti registered his opposition to the bill because it doesn’t protect single-family homes.

“Mayor Garcetti appreciates Sen. Wiener’s bold proposal to help address our housing crisis, and the most recent amendments are encouraging… But this bill is still too blunt for our single-family home areas,” a spokesperson for Garcetti’s office told the L.A. Times.

  • Burt Goralnick.

    GOOD NEWS. Now let’s reduce 8150 Sunset and change the goofy architecture.

  • Water is wet. Local politicians don’t want to lose power. Nobody should expect local governments to support SB 827. SB 827 is needed precisely because city councilmembers will almost always cave to NIMBYs who hate new housing, even though new housing is desperately needed. Existing homeowners have disproportionate power over local land use decisions, but their interests are diametrically opposed to those of renters and first-time homebuyers.

    The tenant protections in SB 827 are extremely robust. If you get evicted for a new development you get 42 MONTHS OF FREE RENT and the right to return, paid for by the developer. That’s also a huge disencentive for developers to displace people.

  • LAifer

    I agree with Mayor Garcetti: Won’t somebody please think of the poor, unrepresented single-family home areas? They’re so helpless.

  • Kevin Withers

    Wrong. You get the difference between what you were paying and the increased costs of temporary housing.

    “relocation benefits” means a payment of an amount necessary to enable that person to lease or rent a replacement dwelling for a period not to exceed 42 months, as follows:”
    “amount of payment necessary to lease or rent a comparable replacement dwelling shall be computed by subtracting 42 times the base monthly rental of the displaced person, from 42 times the monthly rental for a comparable replacement dwelling, “

  • Justin Runia

    While I appreciate the sentiment on behalf of equity groups that this bill doesn’t do enough in terms of renter protections, I don’t know how someone could look at the history of LA city council decisions and determine that those protections will get passed with or without SB 827. Instead, you get the status quo of exclusionary zoning, with some vague hope that the city council will flip to be aggressively pro-renter if rents get bad enough.

  • D’oh! You are correct. So it’s not quite as good as I made it seem, but it’s still 42 months of a de facto rent freeze, plus moving expenses.

  • 1976boy

    Ok so if they are going to oppose the bill then what are they actually doing to fix the problem the bill addresses? So far, nothing. As a result developers ask for and often get variances that feed into the narrative that the city favors developers over residents. While I don’t think that is really true, it has become so in practice due to the abject fear of upzoning, which is absolutely necessary to fix the housing shortage.

    In any case, the bill may pass anyway, or be amended to be more protective of more affordable housing by subsidy rather than by projected supply. We’ll see.

  • Richard

    Their homes are only worth a million or so dollars. If upzoned to allow density around transit, they might only be worth 2-3 million. It’s just awful.

  • Michael G

    And after the 42 months are up? You get to leave because there won’t be anything remotely affordable.

    A right to return? So you get to leave a one bedroom rental but when the replacement building is all 3 BR condos – no rentals – what then?

  • As opposed to what, the status quo where we don’t build enough housing, people keep moving to LA and prices keep going up?

  • Michael G

    More people – same land – price of land goes up. You build dense like Hong Kong and Manhattan you get Hong Kong and Manhattan rents. (Highest in world, and US respectively)

    City Councils don’t build housing. Builders build housing. If a builder wants to build and follows all the rules the city council won’t even get to review it.

    Builders won’t build if they can’t make a profit and the price of land is so high in LA and SF they can’t make a profit with anything but luxury buildings. The price of land is so high because people keep moving to LA and SF.

    Builders won’t build for people who aren’t here (yet) and it takes them 2 years from “shovel hits ground” to “start renting”. That means they are always 2 years behind the population demand. This means there is always a shortage as long as population increases.

    The real problem is jobs form faster than housing can keep up. If commercial space was not allowed unless there was an equal amount of housing built at the same time, the housing would show up with the jobs. If you want to apply a meat-axe approach, that is the one to try. Good luck!

    SB 827 doesn’t do anything but allow more luxury housing which will make middle class neighborhoods more upscale further driving up the price of land making it even more expensive.

    Building high-rises doesn’t help because the increased height costs enough more (cement and steel instead of wood –
    elevators instead of stairs) you have to charge luxury rents to break even.

  • People keep moving to Los Angeles and more housing need to be be built to accommodate them. Since the rate of new housing construction has fallen behind the rate of household formation, the price of all housing has gone up.

    SB 827 allows all forms of housing, both market rate and affordable, to be built more easily near transit by getting zoning regulations on height, density and parking out of the way. Newly built housing in LA is expensive because 1) land is expensive, due to high demand for land and 2) getting housing built is a time-consuming, expensive and risky process.

    Building more densely allows the primary driver of the high cost of housing (land) to be divided over more units, making each unit cheaper to build. Getting rid of parking requirements allows developers to build only as much parking as they think is necessary, making housing cheaper to build.

    By railing against luxury housing you are blaming the solution (more housing) for the problem (overly restrictive zoning that keeps housing supply from catching up with demand). The worst thing for housing affordability in California is the status quo, where we aren’t doing anything except making it hard to build.

  • Michael G

    If you are claiming building higher and denser makes things cheaper, you have to explain Hong Kong and Lower Manhattan. Otherwise you are spinning a fantasy.

    It takes 2 days for someone to move here but 2 years to build an apt. once the shovel hits the ground. So the construction of housing will ALWAYS be behind population demand as long as the population keeps growing. Stop the population growing for a few years and housing can catch up. Otherwise this is a permanent condition.

    SB-827 allows any sort of housing but only luxury housing will be built because the price of land is so high. Building higher doesn’t help because if the owner of the land knows you can get two times the rent by building two times higher he will demand two times as much for the land and you are back where you started.

    All builders will bid as much as they can to buy the land while still showing a profit – the winning bidder *has to* build luxury apartments because he paid so much for the land.

    And besides why would they bother building low rent apartments if for a few extra dollars for marble bathrooms and granite kitchen counters they can get higher rents?

    I am not railing against luxury apts. Build all you want. I am just pointing out that SB-827 won’t help lower rents. It means more high rent apts. so if you can’t afford the rents now, you won’t be able to afford them under SB-827 either.

    SB-827 will destroy historic neighborhoods, make the traffic intolerable and rents still won’t come down.

  • Manhattan and Hong Kong are not expensive places to live because they are densely developed, they are densely developed because the demand to live there has driven land values up very high, so that the only way people can afford to live there is with high rise construction. It’s important to get cause and effect straight. Imagine how much it would cost to live in Manhattan if half of it were developed with detached houses.

    People keep moving to LA. If we don’t build more housing that’s more people bidding for the same scarce pool of housing. That’s what pushes up prices. Developers forecast housing demand. If they screw up they go out of business.

    We need more housing supply and we need more public subsidy for affordable housing.

    If a parcel of land costs $1,000,000 and you put ten units on it, each unit carries $100,000 in land costs. If you put 50 units on it each unit carries $20,000 in land costs. That’s how density makes housing cheaper to build. Even if upzoning raises the land value and you have to use more expensive construction, you can still typically build at a lower total cost at a higher density.

  • Michael G

    If you were correct that building up lowered the average cost per unit then Hong Kong and the denser areas of Manhattan would be cheaper per acre then the single family home areas – but they are more expensive. It doesn’t matter what is cause and effect – only that increasing the density does not lower prices . So your argument fails to explain that very obvious fact.

    Here is what is wrong with your argument. If a parcel of land zoned for 2 story apts. costs $1,000,000 and it is rezoned for 8 story apts. (4X more rental units) then the land instantly becomes worth $4,000,000 (4X more) because every developer bidding for the land will include 4X more rental income as part of the cost-profit bid. By making most of LA and all of SF zoned for 8 story buildings SB-827 would raise the price of land by 2X to 4X. Rents would stay the same but landowners would make a killing.

    No one is stopping you or anyone from building more housing. Go ahead. The problem is that the land is too expensive to make a profit on unless you charge luxury rents.

    Every time you wake up and decide to stay here you are deciding that the trade-off between whatever keeps you here and the high rents is worth staying. Lots of people decide otherwise and are perfectly happy in Portland, Denver, or wherever. Some of my friends did that and are very glad they did. They don’t miss CA in the slightest. I left areas for economic reasons and I would again if I had to.

    The world doesn’t owe me or anyone cheap housing in whatever location I decide I want to live in. I can’t afford to live on the French Riviera but I don’t go claiming it’s a “housing crisis”.

    Where does this idea come from that anyone can decide to live anywhere they want and the world has to make the rent as low as they want? Really, I do not understand that sense of entitlement? Could you explain it, please?

  • Hugh Shepard

    One of the reasons that LA is unaffordable is that you can’t build very dense housing in may areas, and in the areas that you can you have to build huge parking garages because of parking requirements. This drives up the cost of housing by A) limiting the supply of housing, and B) forcing huge parking garages/lots into the equation, making it unaffordable to build non-luxury mid-rise apartments in many cases.

    Hong Kong and Manhattan aren’t the only dense places in the world. They are just places that are very dense and have a large concentration of jobs and economic activity. This large concentration of jobs and economic activity makes them expensive. The density of housing does not necessarily. Look at the South Bronx. Look at South Brooklyn. Look at Jamaica, Queens. Look at the Rockaways in NYC. These are all not extremely expensive real estate, but they all are dense. This is because these places are not world-famous financial centers. If Hong Kong or Manhattan built less housing while somehow still maintaining all of the offices, hotels, tourist attractions, theaters, universities/hospitals, and so on; then they would have even more expensive housing (per unit) because there is an imbalance between supply and demand. Building denser allows you to build more housing.

    Also, if there is a lot of land zoned for lots of high-density apartments all across LA, than will developers really pay that much more for a specific piece of land zoned for mid-rise apartments? If developers were able to build apartments everywhere, could they always build luxury apartments? Wouldn’t there be a point at which developers would have to lower the price of their apartments so as to get people to buy their apartments?

  • Michael G

    On your first paragraph. Those requirements for parking are the same around the US. Yet in the rest of the US – Columbus, OH (a prosperous city, not a rust belt town) for example – housing does not cost a lot. If requiring parking were a factor in raising rents, then it should have the same effect in every place it is required. Yet housing prices vary widely around the US even though parking is almost universally required. So parking requirements are not a factor. BTW, parking garages add only about 5% to the cost of an apt. in San Francisco.

    On your second paragraph, I mostly agree. Density, by itself, does not make a place expensive or cheap. You have pointed out that expensive places are expensive for other reasons. Which means that LA and SF are expensive independent of density. Which means that building denser won’t lower prices since the price is independent of density.

    As for Manhattan and housing, the following chart from a US Census tool called “OnTheMap” shows there are a lot of people entering NYC every day for work so yes, there is a “housing shortage” there which probably makes it expensive, though living in Manhattan isn’t every one’s dream, even if they can afford it.


    If there is a lot of high density zoned land around LA what will happen? Good question. Builders will seek to build where they can get the most money. So they will seek out higher priced areas and charge whatever the market will bear which means prevailing rents. This won’t make rents go down. Or they might choose medium rent areas but in either case they will charge premium rates because new buildings get a premium. They will gentrify areas to get higher rents. They have no incentive whatever to build low rent housing.

    They do not need to build anything. They can sit collecting rents until they see the market coming back. I have seen builders leave an area for years until the situation is back where they want it.

    If the bidding war in the higher-priced areas gets too high, it won’t sell, so the land price *might* be lowered. More likely land will be held on to with the reasonable expectation that based on history, the higher price will be obtainable later. Like owning a stock, if the stock is rising fast enough, you don’t care about the dividend. This will exacerbate the housing shortage.

    That is what I see happening in the SF Bay area. Anyone with buildable land is holding out for more money then the rents can justify so they are expecting the housing bubble to continue to inflate. Builders can’t afford to buy the land with current rents so they build further out on cheaper land making the commute worse and putting a premium on being closer to work. Prices and rents near Apple’s new HQ and Google are skyrocketing.

    There are limits to everything. Trees don’t grow to the sky and cities have a natural limit to how dense and big they can get. The chart below from O’Sullivan’s text on Urban Economics shows this. At some point the cost of supporting a larger population outweighs the revenue from the population. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/83d8a45554c6094b4b2f55ed82c1a815b97d81e25815970cf273702ffffdf95b.jpg

    The following graph shows NYC. Manhattan’s pop. peaked in 1915, Brooklyn’s in 1950.

    Maybe LA and SF are approaching their limits.

    More here:
    and here:

    I guess the traffic in LA isn’t bad enough so they will build higher and denser, putting more cars on the freeways. This will make the time value of being close to work higher so rents will increase near work areas. Then eliminating parking requirements so the rent will go down 5% and become affordable for the common man.

    Should be fun to watch.

  • Hugh Shepard

    Interesting comment. One thing that is important to remember is that more luxury housing can sometimes be better for housing affordability in the long run, particularly if housing prices are already high. The thing is that more luxury housing means that those with money will be more likely buy/rent new luxury housing rather than bidding others out on existing housing. Also, the value of this new luxury housing will depreciate over time. Another thing to consider is that the bill will also make building new housing easier, and therefore make building non-luxury housing a bit easier.

  • Really, cause and effect don’t matter? Sounds like you’re not serious about understanding the problem. Then you segue about a trope about how millions of people suffering under LA’s high housing costs are “entitled” and should leave.

    Here’s my hypothesis: you are someone with secure housing who doesn’t like density and doesn’t really care about the housing crisis.

  • Michael G

    I am not against more apartments – luxury or not – and it may relieve some of the pressure on lower end apartments as you indicate. It will not increase the affordability of anything so if people can’t afford the rents now, they won’t be able to under SB-827 either.

    I followed your link. It looks at 2 apartments in 1 city (Portland OR). Not exactly a statistically valid sample.

    In one case, the studio apt. built 108 years ago is going for standard market rates. I gather the claim of the author with whom you apparently agree is that if we all just wait 108 years, high end apts. will become market rate apts. I am sure those looking for rent relief will be delighted to hear that.

    If market rate housing currently is considered unaffordable (hence “housing crisis”) then affordability is not helped by this former luxury housing. Which means building high rent apts. is not going to help affordability now or 108 years in the future.

    In the other apt. in the cited article, what were once middle-middle young people’s starter apts. in 1960-1970 are still middle-middle. So affordability is not helped here either even if we only need to wait 48-58 years. There is a mention of similar apts. in Atlanta deteriorating with no mention of why.

    As a side note, taking a newspaper’s realty section as an indicator of something being luxury (now or in 1910) is not very scientific. Newspaper realty sections are thinly disguised advertising sections supported by local realtors. If the paper called new apts. ‘ho-hum boring places for those just starting out in life’, the ads would be pulled very, very fast.

    In counterpoint, I would note that in Manhattan “Pre-War apt.” is a good thing and counts as a luxury feature because of the high ceilings, nice detail, and spacious rooms. You can charge higher rent for the older apartments.

    SB-827 will allow lots of high rise apartments in LA with no requirement for parking in a city built around the car where public transit is marginal to non-existent. It will allow many more people to move in to LA.

  • Michael G

    LA is a big city with rents ranging from $1,000 to $3,000
    If you can’t find an area you can afford then either you are being too picky or you should look elsewhere. Just search on “rent map for “. What you will find is that you can’t get a 1 BR apt much below $1,000 in any major city in the US. So if you can’t afford any place in LA, you can’t afford any place anywhere. Here’s Portland:
    from: https://www.zumper.com/blog/2018/03/portland-metro-report-march-2018/

    The issue is whether building more – higher density – makes rents more affordable. HK and Manhattan show they don’t.

    But let’s go to your “cause-effect”. I agree with you that HK and Manhattan are expensive because they are desirable. By your claim that means the cost is result of the desirability of those places *not* due to “housing shortages”.

    If LA is expensive for that reason (desirability, not housing shortage), then building more won’t make it more affordable. In fact, as more luxury housing is built, it will raise the average cost of housing in LA. Nearby apt. owners will see the rents rising in the new building and say “wow – if they can get $3,000 for that new 2BR, I can raise my rents from $1,000 to at least $2,000.”

    The rents aren’t going down in the next few years, SB-827 or not. Unless you are prepared to wait 10 or 15 years, your situation will stay the same.

    You didn’t answer my question. If LA is expensive for you, why stay?

    As for your hypothesis. I lived in Wash. DC area and left after 2 years because it was too expensive for me with my wife in college. She got her degree, and after another 10 years we made enough to get a fixer-upper. It has increased in price enough that we couldn’t afford it now.

    I lived in a place I couldn’t afford so I left for a place I could afford. Why don’t you?

  • Sorry dude, but talking to you about economics is like talking to Trump about climate change. If you won’t acknowledge basic laws of supply and demand, I’ve been wasting my time.

  • Michael G

    Supply and demand works fine. But the supply is land and they stopped making it.

    If you really are having trouble with housing, it won’t get better in the next five years so start packing.

    Or maybe you are just a paid developer shill spreading “fake news”.

  • Orlando Llampay

    And then, when home values in those areas shoot up another 200%, 300% or 400% due to upzoning, it should not be rocket science that these homeowners have a lucrative incentive to sell their home to developers! This is seriously not nuclear physics to put it that way. :)

  • Orlando Llampay

    Let’s be honest, people do not make land. They can make way for more land through destroying more natural habitats and putting more plants and wild animals in danger, however, they cannot produce new land. That’s the Earth & Mother Nature’s responsibility and unfortunately due to climate change and rising sea levels, the supply of land is actually shrinking and therefore not being manufactured unless we talk about unstable landfill (artificial) land which can be very unstable and weak as in this scenario…(https://sf.curbed.com/2016/8/4/12382574/millennium-tower-landfill-liquefaction-sinking)

  • Michael G

    You seem to be agreeing with me yet your tone sounds like you are disagreeing.

    Anyway, fitting more people on the same amount of land means bidding for the land increases the price. If there were a pause in the population increase, there might be a chance for building to catch up and prices could stabilize. As long as builders are always playing catch-up, there will be a shortage of housing and more and more people will get priced out.

    At what point do we say, this is as dense as we can make LA (or any city) before traffic becomes unmanageable, and the cost of housing becomes too high?

    Do we want LA (or SF) to look like Chonq-Qing China (below)

    Or is Hong Kong the model – the most expensive city in the world. If density made things cheaper, someone has to explain why Hong Kong is so expensive.

  • Orlando Llampay

    Let’s be honest…some of the cities with the most unaffordable housing markets in general are also some of the most desirable in the world due to it’s abundance of opportunities of all types, especially socioeconomic and unique characteristics that cannot simply be found in the countryside or in rural areas in general such as prestigious schools of higher learning (higher institutions), an abundance of labor at factories and service based industries and many forms of entertainment, leisure and nightlife activities that cannot be found in the countryside (because many cities are energetic in their own ways whether a vibrant nightlife or many amusement parks locally to choose from) that can fit the needs of a diverse group of people. All that and many more factors lure people from the countryside into cities around the world.

    However, I can admit that as with everything, population growth centered on cities has its unintended consequences. With the example of higher density housing, in some cases it brings induced demand as population growth puts pressure on local governments and society to produce more superior community amenities although sometimes it does not roll out as planned due to the high upfront costs it takes to run and expand these community amenities in the first place (a larger police force, a expertise fire department, a sophisticated transit network and college ready secondary schools and flexible zoning to maximize the potential of a growing city and its economy). And therefore, higher density has it’s positive side of forcing and incentivizing cities to continue improving their community amenities to a constantly more superior level while if the expansion and depth of community amenities does not continue growing along with it’s population, problems arise such as homelessness, increases in crime, poverty, traffic and a decrease in the potential educational attainment city residents can have to maximize the socioeconomic potential of a city and it’s surrounding area.

    The best solution?
    Not banning high density but encouraging through the power of voting and free speech to get politicians to get on with the program and expand, repair, replace and construct new infrastructure to met the needs of a growing community.



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