Mar 25 2018

Controversy Erupts Over Proposed State Senate Bill to Require Cities to Offer Density Bonuses for Low Income Housing on Transit Rich Corridors

IF SB 827 is approved, Piedmont could be obligated to offer a density bonus and/or a Floor Area Ratio of no less than 2.5 for lots with a maximum height limit of 45 feet, if a developer proposes to construct a specified percentage of units for very low, low-, or moderate-income households on a transit rich site.

Could Piedmont lose further control over land use  if  State Senate 827 becomes law approving four story apartment buildings on single family zoned properties located within 1/4 mile of “high quality” bus routes?

Will Piedmont’s City Council take a position on SB 827 as proposed by Piedmont’s State Senator Nancy Skinner?

To date, there has been no action taken by the Piedmont City Council to support or oppose SB 827.

Piedmont is a member of the League of California Cities and has a City Council representative on the League of California Cities – East Bay.  The League frequently takes positions on legislation impacting California cities and controls over local land use.

The new bill SB 827 introduced in the California state legislature on March 1, 2018 (as amended) by San Francisco Assembly member Phil Ting, San Francisco Senator Scott Wiener, and East Bay Senator Nancy Skinner (Piedmont’s State Senator ) would cede developers a transit-housing bonus for taller denser developments near major transit hubs.

Transit Centers, Transit Villages, and Transit Corridors are a popular planning device to reduce automobile traffic and pollution and congregate residents near established transit corridors.

Piedmont was largely developed by Borax Smith with transport into Piedmont from the San Francisco Bay.  Years ago many of Piedmont’s transit routes were taken over by the Key System, a corporation, followed by voter approval of the current Alameda Contra Costa Transit District (AC Transit), a public special district providing bus transit for Piedmont and much of the East Bay.

AC Transit bus routes are well established in Piedmont.

Piedmont, long known for quick commutes to San Francisco and Oakland, could be targeted for densification within a 1/4 mile of our major “high quality” bus routes on Oakland Avenue, Highland Avenue, Grand Avenue, and Highland Way. 

Control and development of housing has been partially removed from cities and counties by the California State legislature in a push to accommodate California’s ever growing population and a need for affordable housing.   Densification of cities by adding apartments to single family homes and negating parking requirements are examples.  SB 827 would further the drive for additional housing involving local zoning controls concerning densification within 1/4 – 1/2 mile of “high quality” transit.

California law defines a “major transit stop” as:

A site containing an existing rail transit station, a ferry terminal served by either a bus or rail transit service, or the intersection of two or more major bus routes with a frequency of service interval of 15 minutes or less during the morning and afternoon peak commute periods.

Opinions on SB 827 have varied tremendously.  Some Piedmont residents think the bill would be unlikely to affect Piedmont. Residents in San Francisco, including the Planning Commission, and Pacific Palisades have pointed out problems in the bill, while those interested in building convenient affordable housing, have praised the bill.  The opportunity for the State to regulate land use near transit rather than leaving land use controls to cities has been identified as a method of providing more affordable housing. 

Click on the links to learn some pros and cons on the bill.

SB 827 would spare new housing developments from certain restrictions if they qualify as “transit-rich housing.” The initial version of the bill defines such housing as “parcels […] within a a half mile radius of a major transit stop or a quarter mile radius of a high-quality transit corridor.”

“In particular, SB 827 would change two important things about transit-adjacent land use:

“Summary Opinion: SB 827 is bad legislation. Not only is it an effort to bypass local control of land uses, every time the State Legislature preempts local regulations, such as mandating density bonuses, granny flats, etc., it only results in a lower quality of life for the residents living within the local agencies’ boundaries. The only beneficiaries of SB 827 will be owners of properties located within the transit corridors defined in the bill. They will get richer, as will the politicians who sponsor this legislation, while the residents of the local agencies’ boundaries will suffer.”

The bill would exempt a project [from] maximum controls on residential density or floor area ratio, minimum automobile parking requirements, design standards that restrict the applicant’s ability to construct the maximum number of units consistent with any applicable building code, and maximum height limitations.

Via a press release, Sen. Wiener called the bill—and two other housing-related bills introduced today, one of which would mandate that cities keep more strict track of population growth and adjust housing requirements accordingly and another that would make it easier to build housing for farm workers—a necessary tool for speeding housing construction.

“After nearly 50 years of bad housing policy—policy designed to make it incredibly hard and expensive to create housing—we began the long process of righting the ship,” said Sen. Wiener.

The proposed law first goes to the State Senate’s fiscal committee for consideration.


Mapping of potential areas impacted by SB 827 > HERE.

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