Northern California Forum Opposes Housing Bill SB 50

April 21, 2019 Updated: April 21, 2019

San Francisco-based State Senator Scott Wiener recently proposed SB 50, a bill that would increase residential density around public transit areas.

A part of SB 50 is also working to build on the Housing Accountability Act of 1982, further strengthening the state’s control over housing, and banning cities from rejecting any “density bonus” project.

In response to the bill, the organization Livable California, Pleasanton City Councilor Julie Testa, Cupertino Mayor Steven Scharf, Palo Alto City Councilor Lydia Kou, and local residents held a forum on April 6 at the Cupertino Senior Center.

During the forum, residents expressed opposition to the bill. One objection they raised was that the bill would further gentrification and affect the surrounding single-family homes.

“We kind of want to look at what our rights are in our neighborhood, because we’re going to be a parking lot for developers who are out of town that come in, and they’re telling us [their] project that they’re pushing right now is for disabled adults and low-income housing,” one local resident said during the forum.

Residents attributed their concern to the upcoming Google campus in downtown San Jose.

Because the Google campus is going to have an estimated 20,000 employees, some residents worry that the housing that’s being authorized by SB 50 will push out current residents and won’t actually be for low-income families, but for tech employees.

The same resident added: “They’re acting like they’re doing us a favor for disabled adults. All buildings for years have to have a percentage of low-income housing anyway.”

According to Testa, every housing project has 20 percent inclusionary housing, which is subsidized housing made available to middle-class or low-income families. The other 80 percent of housing is then marketed at a higher market rate.

“The narrative [of SB 50] that suggests that we’re going to build all of these high numbers of affordable units, it’s not happening, and it’s not going to happen. And it’s not because people wouldn’t want to; it’s because the factors that control [housing] are economic factors,” said Testa.

A large number of new, market-rate, luxury housing units may also lead to nearby landlords increasing rent and a rise in the number of homeless people, as seen in San Francisco.

“These housing bills, like SB 50, are real estate bills to serve developers,” said Testa.

Speakers also expressed worry about increased violence and drug and alcohol use in dense inclusionary housing units, along with more people and vehicles in a small dense area and building beyond what the infrastructure can allow.

Forum attendees argued that more people could also lead to higher traffic and over-enrollment in schools. Additionally, buildings encouraged by SB 50 can tower up to 85 feet, causing imbalance among the existing infrastructure.

“The height limit can go to 45 or 55 [feet]. When you add the density bonuses and all the other shenanigans that [are] in this legislature, it can go up to 85 feet. So we have to be careful, where they write certain things and then they hide other [information] in small print,” said Kou.

Susan Kirsch of Livable California said that bills such as SB 50 are not new.

“It’s been happening every year, and every year the intensity of what they’re planning to do to take away local control gets a little bit worse,” she said.

Kirsch said that these bills aim to put the decision-making power in the hands of contractors and the government, by blaming local cities for “not doing enough” about zoning regulations or environmental reports, among other excuses.

As of the writing of this article, SB 50 has been re-referred to the Committee on Governance and Finance and is set for another hearing on April 24.