Coveting local control, City Council opposes state bill to boost housing density

The Long Beach City Council told statewide lawmakers to stay out of the city’s real estate market Tuesday night while simultaneously asking Sacramento to aim future legislation at other cities if it wants to solve the housing crisis.

They voted 8-0 to oppose Senate Bill 50, a bill authored by Bay Area lawmaker Scott Weiner that could strip local municipalities of some control over land use as a means to increase density and boost overall housing production. By opposing the bill, Long Beach joins other large municipalities like Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Weiner’s bill would wave height and parking requirements for developments within a quarter mile of quality transit corridors or within a half mile of major transit stops. The same incentive would be granted to projects in “job-rich” areas, a term that would not be defined until after SB 50 passes.

City Council to examine opposing one of California’s boldest housing bills—and that’s not a good look

Potentially the most controversial part of Weiner’s bill is a provision for existing homes or vacant lots in single-family neighborhoods to be converted into buildings with up to four units. Only small portions of Long Beach would be covered by zoning restrictions in the bill that prohibit such conversions in the coastal zone, wetlands areas, historic districts and flood zones.

“Long Beach is a diverse city, and that is why many people love this city; that’s why we live here,” said Councilman Al Austin, one of the co-authors of the item opposing SB 50. “We’re a beach city, an urban community with a thriving, growing downtown, but we’re also a suburban community with many strong single-family neighborhoods. Each with their own distinct characteristics and charms that make Long Beach such a great city.”

Austin said the one-size-fits-all approach by SB 50 does not work and would not be good for Long Beach. He said the city already made moves to increase housing through its recent land-use element vote that approved density increases in certain potions of the city. None of the approved density in the land-use element encroached into historically single-family neighborhoods.

Under SB 50, the new high-density housing could be allowed with little to no parking, something council members found unpalatable. Councilwoman Stacy Mungo, who signed onto Austin’s item to oppose the bill, said that the city’s stance during her time in office has always been to include the public in big decisions that impact the city.

Mungo and Austin also co-authored an op-ed this week where they acknowledged the housing crisis but pointed to granular measures taken by the City Council as a better approach.

“The state has an important role to play in addressing California’s housing crisis,” they wrote. “But arbitrarily overriding locally developed height limitations, densities, parking requirements and design review standards is not the answer.”

As part of their opposition to SB 50, the council members asked Sacramento lawmakers to direct land-use bills at cities who have done little to close California’s housing deficit.

“There’s no way that we should let these cities off the hook that are essentially conducting modern day redlining,” said Councilman Rex Richardson. “They’re essentially saying ‘We want none of you people in our communities’ and there was some of that that happened in our land use element discussions. Let’s not pretend that our process was perfect.”

Richardson said the measures that some cities have taken amounts to abuse of local control. He contended those cities are  the ones that should have local control stripped away.

The City Council previously approved a state legislative agenda that broadly expressed opposition for any state bill that would take away local control. It also voted against a previous iteration of Weiner’s bill, SB 827, which sought to reach many of the goals laid out in SB 50, in February of 2018.

The council said it would continue to oppose bills that infringe on local control.

A handful of residents turned out Tuesday night to prod the council into voting against the proposed legislation.

“This [SB 50] is really saying that ‘Yes, we’re going to invade the areas that don’t normally have multi-family buildings in them,’” said East Long Beach resident, Corliss Lee. “And I can tell you the East Side does not want this and Stacy [Mungo] knows that well.”

The divisive bill managed to galvanize opposition from home owners and housing rights activists, who normally clash with each other. Josh Butler, executive director of Housing Long Beach, said in a statement that his group was opposing SB 50 because it did little to help people struggling with affordability, adding that the group would remain opposed to the legislation unless it was amended to better tackle affordability and displacement.

“Long Beach needs to build, but, we need to build affordable housing, not more market-rate housing nobody can afford,” Butler said. “SB 50 just presses down on the gas pedal of gentrification.”

The fate of the bill is still unknown as it is expected to be heard in the senate appropriations committee before the end of the month.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.