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L.A. City Planning Report Warns About SB 50 Impacts

Posted Friday, April 26, 2019 - 11:45 am

By Victoria Talbot

A new report by the Los Angeles Department of City Planning on Senate Bill 50, the far-reaching density housing proposal by Sen. Scott Wiener, confirms that in Los Angeles, the bill “may compromise the ability to maintain unique community scale and form, as well as neighborhood features such as yards, trees, adequate off-street parking, sunlight and privacy.”

The City of Beverly Hills has joined other cities across the State to oppose SB50, which is a follow-up to last year’s SB 827.

The proposed bill affects residential development zoning laws within half-mile of a major transit stop or a “high-quality bus corridor,” which would affect most of Beverly Hills. It also applies to sites within a “job-rich, high-opportunity neighborhood,” which would include Beverly Hills. SB50 would supersede local zoning to increase density, requiring low-density neighborhoods to allow four or five story apartment buildings near transit stops and somewhat smaller buildings in wealthier neighborhoods near jobs.

Allegedly created to address the housing crisis in California, the bill would be a boom for developers. Others fear that the bill will accelerate gentrification in lower income areas. And in wealthier areas, the bill is perceived as an attack on single-family neighborhoods.

The L.A. City Planning Department summarized the impacts with the following bullet points, which mimic much of what Beverly Hills Mayor John Mirisch said at his installation speech:

• SB 50 includes approximately 63% of the City’s developable area within its boundaries; however, when considering parcel-level eligibility requirements in the bill, it is estimated that approximately 43% of the developable area of the City would be eligible for SB 50 incentives.

• SB 50 is likely to have impacts in all eligible areas, though they will differ according to a mix of factors such as current zoning, existing use, physical constraints, market factors and allowable incentives.

• The largest impacts of the bill are anticipated to occur in lower-density areas that are located within a mile of a rail station – or about 6% of single-family zoned parcels and 8% of R2 and RD (restricted density) zoned parcels. These areas would be eligible for significant increases in allowable height, mass (floor area ratio) and/or density.

• By directly expanding zoned capacity for multi-family housing across the state, SB 50 is expected to lead to a significant increase in home construction, and lead to more housing, including affordable housing, being built.

• SB 50 may move development focus away from commercial corridors and high-density zoned residential areas and into lower-density zoned areas.

• The legislation appears to allow for the City’s design and preservation controls to be superseded in many instances.

• Special land use regulations for historic preservation, hillside areas, flood zones, very high fire hazard severity zones, non-urbanized areas and coastal properties do not appear to be specifically addressed, as they often are in other statewide legislation.

• On-site affordability requirements for most SB 50 projects will often be lower than comparable density bonus and TOC requirements.

• While SB 50 includes protections for rental housing and sites where rental housing has been recently converted or demolished, the bill will likely lead to an increase in demolition of owner-occupied single-family homes, particularly near rail transit.

• The “sensitive communities” designation that allows for delayed implementation would apply to approximately 15% of the parcels eligible for SB 50 incentives, but would not recognize the very recent community planning efforts in South Los Angeles. Future planning efforts in sensitive communities would only be recognized if upzones match SB 50 levels within the plan areas.

• There remain several unknowns about the bill that could greatly affect impacts to bulk and form, particularly in lower-scale neighborhoods.

• It is unclear if the City’s TOC Program or the Affordable Housing Linkage Fee (AHLF) are intended to be considered “inclusionary housing ordinances” for the purposes of alternative compliance with the bill’s affordability requirements.

The Los Angeles City Council has also voted 12-0 to oppose the bill, but it is clear that Wiener is not giving up. In San Francisco, which he represents, Wiener’s bill enjoys support.

In a recent survey of 500 people, 74 percent support SB50, in a State of the City poll commissioned by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.

SB50 has already come out of the housing committee, which Wiener chairs, and thus it has progressed further than SB827 ever did.

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