Housing and Climate Change: SB 50 Reaches to Connect the Dots

The quote commonly attributed to John Muir, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, one finds it attached to the rest of the world,”  may not be something he actually said, but it captures the connection between housing, transportation and climate change. There is no way for California to solve any of these problems without addressing all of them.

The incoming freshman class of the House of Representatives is promoting a draft proposal for a Green New Deal that urges a “’detailed national, industrial, economic mobilization plan’ allowing the United States to swiftly become carbon-neutral.” But you can’t get to carbon neutrality if cities maintain zoning laws promoting suburban sprawl over infill housing. Cities like ours.

California State Senator Scott Weiner has introduced SB 50, taking the challenges up again and looking to rectify some of the issues that lead to the death of SB 827 in committee seven months ago.

In a recent press release, Weiner offered that “We must take bold steps now to address our severe housing crisis and reduce our carbon footprint. California’s housing shortage hurts our most vulnerable communities, working families, young people, our environment, and our economy. It also increases homelessness. For too long we have created sprawl by artificially limiting the number of homes that are built near transit and job centers. As a result of this restrictive zoning in urbanized areas, people are forced into crushing commutes, which undermines our climate goals, and more and more Californians are living in wildfire zones. As educational and economic opportunities become increasingly concentrated in and near urban areas, we must ensure all of our residents are able to access these opportunities.  I am excited to work with a diverse coalition to spur the development of more housing for all income levels while protecting vulnerable communities and ensuring we do more to address climate change.”

A  report last week from the California Air Resources Board (ARB). found “California is not on track to meet regional greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals, in part because of rising emissions from driving.” California must “significantly slash transportation emissions to meet Gov. Jerry Brown’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2045.”

Senate Bill 50, dubbed the “More Housing, Opportunity, Mobility, Equity and Stability Act” – or “More HOMES” Act – is co-sponsored by State Senators Ben Hueso, Anna Bacallero, Nancy Skinner, and John Moorlach as well as Assemblymembers Autumn Burke, Buffy Wicks, Phil Ting, Ash Kalra, Evan Low, Kevin Riley, and Robert Rivas.

According to UrbanizeLA, SB 50 would waive allow for the construction of apartments near “high-quality transit” – meaning within a half-mile of a rail station or a quarter-mile of a bus stop with frequent service – and also in job-rich areas – which are identified by the Department of Housing and Community Development and the Office of Planning and Research.  Developments located within a half-mile radius of a transit stop, but outside of a quarter-mile radius, would be eligible for waivers from height limits less than 45 feet and FAR limits of 2.5-to-1.  Developments located within a quarter-mile radius of a transit stop would be eligible for waivers for height requirements under 55 feet and FAR limits of 3.25-to-1.

According to a release from the advocacy organization California YIMBY, this effectively amounts to four- and five-story buildings.

These projects would be achieved by requiring the local land use authority – be it a city or a county – to grant an equitable communities incentive to projects that meet the above criteria.  This includes a waiver of maximum controls on density and automobile parking requirements greater than .5 spaces per residential unit, and up to three additional incentives or concessions from the existing density bonus law.  Local jurisdictions would be free to modify their implementation of the program, as long as they remain consistent with the intentions of the SB 50.

Judith Martin-Straw



The Actors' Gang

1 Comment

  1. “…you can’t get to carbon neutrality if cities maintain zoning laws promoting suburban sprawl over infill housing. Cities like ours.”

    Yup. I really, really hope that our hometown will be willing to do its part in tackling the twin housing and climate crises before us. We’ve got a lot of work to do! Thank you for posting this, Judith!

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