Why Long Beach should oppose SB 50

People Post is a space for opinion pieces, letters to the editor and guest submissions from members of the Long Beach community. The following is an op-ed submitted by councilmembers Al Austin II, representing Long Beach’s 8th District, and Stacy Mungo, representing District 5, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Long Beach Post.

It is widely accepted that California has a housing crisis. There are few policymakers who would argue otherwise. Long Beach, as well, needs additional housing to accommodate current overcrowding and anticipated future growth.

The pivotal question is how we address this need. Is it best addressed through a careful and thoughtfully developed local plan, or with a one-size-fits-all approach imposed by the state, regardless of whether a city is already working to address its housing shortfall.

Long Beach has spent more than 12 years working to update its Land Use Element (LUE) of the city’s General Plan. More than 67 community meetings and other public forums were held in just two years to get input, with more than 1,000 public comments received throughout the process.

In March 2018, the City Council approved the LUE, which increases allowable heights and density, and provides significantly more opportunities for housing along our major corridors, close to public transit and job centers. Meanwhile, the character of our residential neighborhoods were left largely intact. One of Long Beach’s strengths is its diversity of neighborhoods, each with its own charms and characteristics.

With the updates to our Land Use Element, Long Beach is poised to accommodate more than 28,000 housing units over the next two decades, including more than 17,000 units specifically accommodated in the LUE update. This will address current overcrowding in the city, as well as projected additional housing needs.

Long Beach is also working on making housing more affordable. The city is already implementing Revenue Tools and Incentives for the Production of Affordable and Workforce Housing. Additionally, the city has revised its zoning laws to allow accessory dwelling units in many neighborhoods.

On Tuesday, we are asking the City Council to oppose Senate Bill 50 (Weiner), as it would override all of the local planning efforts that have taken place and take a sledgehammer to the local land use decisions that Long Beach has gone to great lengths to establish/modify.

Here are some examples:

  • SB 50 would require cities to allow the construction of four or five-story multi-family buildings within a half-mile of a rail line, such as the Blue Line, or within a quarter-mile of major bus routes. It does not restrict these buildings to the major corridors, and they would be allowed by right (without a local process) within a quarter-mile or half-mile radius of a transit route, even if it is in the middle of a neighborhood of single-family homes or smaller apartments. These four or five-story apartments would also be allowed by right near “job rich areas”, which are yet to be defined and wouldn’t require parking (more on this below).
  • SB 50 would allow by right any property owner to build a fourplex on a vacant lot in any residential neighborhood or convert an existing home into a fourplex, regardless of the density allowed in current zoning. The “crackerbox” era of residential construction in Long Beach, when multi-family housing was allowed to be built in the middle of neighborhoods without consideration of the surrounding neighborhood, has been nearly unanimously criticized as poor planning, and has become synonymous with disastrous land use decisions. If SB 50 passes, it would be like “crackerbox on steroids”, in terms of the impact to many neighborhoods.
  • Long Beach’s LUE went to great lengths to address parking concerns and maintain parking standards of a minimum of 1.25 spaces per unit Downtown, 1.5 spaces in midtown, 1.75 spaces for transit-oriented developments and 2.25 spaces in other areas of the city. The City Council just last month approved a motion to work on addressing issues caused by significant parking shortages in the Downtown area.

SB 50 would eliminate our parking standards. It would prevent cities from requiring any parking for housing developments within a half mile of a rail station, and would limit parking requirements to .5 spaces per unit along bus routes and “jobs-rich” areas.

This is not about opposing new housing construction or new density in the city. Far from it. The City Council is already on record in support of allowing significantly more housing, and creating more density along our transit corridors.

However, SB 50 undermines the entire process of locally adopted General Plans, giving no consideration to local community needs or decision-making. The increased density of four- or five-story residential buildings would not be restricted to the transit corridors. It would be allowed within existing neighborhoods, if they are within the specified radius of bus routes or the Blue Line, or unspecified “jobs-rich” areas.

That is why the League of California Cities, and dozens of cities throughout the state, including Los Angeles and the County of San Francisco, are opposing this legislation.

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

Many smaller cities do not have the staff or resources to update their General Plans with the extent of community outreach and planning that Long Beach undertook. The State Legislature can provide incentives and resources to these cities to update their Housing and Land Use elements to meet the current needs. The State can also hold cities accountable that are not taking the steps necessary to accommodate housing growth.

But Long Beach is seeing new housing built, and has a plan in place to accommodate additional housing needs. Undermining those efforts and stripping local processes can only be seen as short-sighted and counter-productive, not “forward thinking” or “innovative.”

That is why we ask our colleagues on the City Council and the residents of Long Beach to join in opposing SB 50.

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