Bold state housing policy that could eliminate single-family zoning clears key hurdle

The state is now on the realistic political verge of eliminating single-family zoning—making the conversion of single-family houses into to four-unit buildings by right anywhere in the state—after two major senate bills, SB 50 and SB 4, were merged and approved by the State Senate Governance and Finance Committee.

SB 50, the brainchild of Sen. Scott Wiener, was introduced after the senator previously failed to pass SB 827 last year, a bill aimed at increasing density near and around transit centers by reducing or eliminating certain legal barriers. SB 50, dubbed the “More HOMES (Housing, Opportunity, Mobility, Equity, and Stability) Act,” planned on achieving its main goal—increasing housing—through two main actions: Eliminating low-density zoning laws that are in place near transit and job centers and reducing or eliminating parking minimums for new housing developments, with increased incentives as the more affordable the development becomes.

According to Wiener’s initial documentation backing SB 50, roughly 80% of California’s residential areas prohibit building anything more than a single-family home.

Sen. Mike McGuire’s SB 4, like Wiener’s legislation, aimed to boost housing near mass transit but would limit its reach in certain communities—the latter part a direct counterpart to Wiener, who was largely criticized for overriding the wants of the communities that would have been most affected by his previous bill, SB 827.

The merging of the bills came both logically and logistically: SB 50 and SB 4 advanced out of the same committee, the State Senate Committee, earlier this month. McGuire chairs the State Senate Governance and Finance Committee, where both pieces of legislation were discussed Wednesday.

The final outcome came with one glaring change: The bill essentially eradicates single-family zoning, much in the vein of Minneapolis’ recent legislation. What this means is that any property owner could subdivide or remodel a single-family house and to turn it into a fourplex and, in the same breath, any developer could build a fourplex on a vacant lot—they cannot demolish an existing home—that was previously zoned solely for single-family houses.

While the Los Angeles City Council, much to the ire of housing advocates, unanimously voted against supporting SB 50, the Long Beach political community, including its councilmembers and Mayor Robert Garcia, have yet to publicly support or denounce the bill.

The bill still has committees to pass through before it would come for a vote before the full state Senate—but one thing is glaringly obvious: There is a bipartisan effort growing in alleviating the state’s massive housing crisis—and that effort has resulted in the small step of a major committee essentially approving apartments in every space of the state.

Brian Addison is a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or on social media at FacebookTwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.

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Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 16 nominations and two additional wins for Best Political Commentary for his work at KCET and Best Blog for Longbeachize, a section of the Long Beach Post. Brian currently serves as a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post.
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