The Planning Report – Weiner Moves Planning Policy Via SB 592

Following the failure of his controversial upzoning bill SB 50, Senator Scott Wiener has introduced—via two “gut and amend” processes—new legislation again designed to wrest control over planning and zoning from cities in the name of supply-side economics. In this excerpt from The Planning Report  Hydee Feldstein—who correctly predicted the back-door introduction of SB 592—now unpacks the new bill’s key provisions to reveal the sweeping impacts obscured in what was originally a minor bureaucratic exercise: the stripping of nearly all zoning and land-use requirements from any type of housing, the removal of measures targeting housing affordability, and the inability to regulate disruptive business models such as short-term rentals, communal living, or corporate housing.

“The 2019 legislative package is an effort to roll back the requirements for inclusionary affordable housing and to trample all over local control, safety, habitat, conservation, historic preservation, and other elements of good planning that were taken into account in the 2017 housing package.” —Hydee Feldstein

Senator Wiener’s land-use legislation has never been a debate or a conversation about policy, affordability, or homelessness. He ducks out of town halls or only takes friendly softball questions. He does not take serious questions or legitimate debate about the substance of his industry drafted bills. But even substance aside, the tactics, tricks, and sneakiness of SB 592 (as well as SB 330, AB 1487, and several other industry-drafted bills this legislative season) are reprehensible, usually incomprehensible to the average legislator and the average citizen, and increasingly shameless in their grasp.

In 2017, the California Legislature passed a comprehensive package of 15 housing bills that became effective January 1, 2018. While not perfect from anyone’s perspective, that package balanced the different policies and alternatives and was determined to be the best way forward to create affordable housing and address the housing needs in our state. Not even one construction cycle has elapsed since those bills came into effect, yet industry has already come back—through their lobby and certain legislators—to try to undo all that was accomplished in 2017. The 2019 legislative package is an effort to roll back the requirements for inclusionary affordable housing (by way of retroactive application in SB 330 and other bills) and to trample all over local control, safety, habitat, conservation, historic preservation, and other elements of good planning that were taken into account, though weakened, in the 2017 compromise legislation.

Neither our Legislature nor our Governor should allow this important a set of policies to be passed through public deception or determined by industry legislation apparently fueled by the desire to prevail at all cost. SB 592 and its companion bills completely fail to meet the standards of transparency, candor, and accountability to which we should hold our elected representatives.

A “gut and amend” may technically be legal in California, but that does not make it moral or good governance. The gut and amend of SB 592 bespeaks a legislator unable to accept consensus and all too willing to prepare bills that can serve as vehicles for these kinds of legislative maneuvers. SB 592 is such a bill. It was introduced by Senator Wiener on February 22, 2019 as a simple amendment to the Health & Safety Code: to extend the due date by which the California Department of Housing & Community Development (HCD) has to deliver its annual report from December 31 to June 30. Not a controversial bill or even one likely to awaken any public interest, but because the term “housing” appeared in the bill, SB 592 still found its way onto at least a few radar screens for tracking.

Then, on March 27, Senator Wiener gutted and amended SB 592 to drop the Health & Safety Code provisions and any reference to housing. Instead, SB 592 became a vehicle to amend Business & Professions Code section 7400 to require the Board of Barbering and Cosmetology (BBC) to update the public profile of a licensee (in addition to updating its own records as required under existing law) if BBC receives a notification that the licensee’s address has changed. Again, not a controversial or even necessary bill, but the change meant that the bill no longer mentioned ”housing”, “land use,” or any of the other search terms that could land a bill on the radar screen of anyone following Senator Wiener’s views on real estate matters. So, nothing to see here, folks—just barbers and cosmetologists updating their public profiles.

Previously in CityWatch LA, I identified SB 592 as a prime target for a “gut and amend” to try to pass SB 50 provisions this year, partly because SB 592 had successfully passed the Senate Appropriations Committee (where SB 50 had been suspended). On June 13, 2019, that is exactly what Senator Wiener did. He gutted and amended SB 592 to transform it into a “housing accountability act.”

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Hydee Feldstein

Feldstein is a retired attorney who lives in Los Angeles and is active on land-use issues in her neighborhood council. Please send any comments to [email protected].

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