LA lawmakers take stand against California’s transit, housing bill 

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The Los Angeles City Council heaped on scorn Tuesday of a state bill intended to spur the construction of more apartment buildings near transit stations.

It voted unanimously to oppose Senate Bill 827, which would allow apartments and condos to be built near transit stations, even if a city’s local zoning code bans multi-family housing in those areas. It has the potential to add density to single-family neighborhoods—in an effort to solve California’s housing crisis.

“I appreciate the catalyst that this bill is trying to accomplish, but it’s too blunt a tool as currently written,” said Councilmember Joe Buscaino, who represents Harbor area neighborhoods like San Pedro and Wilmington. “This bill takes a chainsaw approach to the patient, instead of a scalpel.”

The opposition came with a string of criticism from City Councilmembers over gentrification and local control over planning and land use.

“The intent behind SB 827 is good, and I support initiatives for more affordable housing. But it would lead to massive displacement,” said Councilmember David Ryu, who represents neighborhoods including Sherman Oaks, the Hollywood Hills, Fairfax, and Los Feliz. “Central to this bill is that it eliminates local control and gives LA planning policy over to Sacramento.”

“This is a bad bill,” said Councilmember Mike Bonin, who represents Westside neighborhoods, including Brentwood, Mar Vista, and Venice. “But it is absolutely unsurprising that it’s come up… because our current system also does not provide enough affordable housing for our next generation.”

State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who authored the bill, says it would help to relax restrictive zoning codes that stall the construction housing.

California is in the grips of a profound housing crisis, and the bill’s supporters say that making it easier to build dense multi-family housing is one way to address the crisis. Adding more housing could help drive down the cost to rent and buy.

“At the heart of all of this is that as a state, we under-produce by about 100,000 housing units every year, and we have a housing debt that’s growing,” Wiener told Curbed in January. “We can’t just do little changes and nips and tucks. Building dense housing around transit is one of the most pro-affordability and pro-sustainability things we can do.”

Under the bill, builders would be allowed to erect multi-family residential buildings up to four or five stories in height within a .5 mile of a rail station or a stop on high-frequency bus line, defined as those with service at least once every 15-minutes during rush hour.

Buildings could be built taller—up toseven or eight stories—within one-quarter mile of those transit stops.

The bill would also relax parking requirements to alleviate construction costs for developers.

In February, more than three dozen Los Angeles affordable housing, tenants rights and transit equity groups lead by ACT-LA sent a letter to Senator Wiener arguing his bill would undo the positive effects of Measure JJJ, a voter-approved initiative in the city of Los Angeles that requires affordable units be included in certain types of new development.

Opponents are also concerned SB 827 would lead to displacement and gentrification, because existing housing, especially those that are rent-controlled, could be demolished to make way for new market-rate units.

Asiyahola Sankara, ACT-LA’sorganizing and outreach program manager, calls SB 827 the “wrong bill.”

“It doesn’t address… affordability of housing, access to transit, and environmental benefits. It doesn’t do any of that,” he says.

Dozens of different neighborhood councils across Los Angeles voted to oppose SB 827 before the City Council’s vote on Tuesday.

“If this bill becomes law, the city of Los Angeles would no longer be able to regulate local land use by zoning and development regulations throughout much of the city,” wrote the Greater Echo Park Elysian Neighborhood Council. “It would eviscerate local input into land use decisions, and moot the city’s current efforts to update community plans and the general plan.”

A repeated concern among neighborhood councilsisthat the bill would usurp protections for historic buildings in LA’s historic preservation overlay zones, special districts that limit alterations to old properties in order to “protect neighborhoods with distinct architectural and cultural resources.”

“This bill will be absolutely devastating to historic preservation, will be devastating to single-family home neighborhoods, and I really think it would destroy the character of Los Angeles,” said Councilmember Paul Koretz on Tuesday. “It really makes no sense. This bill as it stands is insanity. I think it’s the craziest bill I have ever seen.”

Reached by the Los Angeles Times in late February, a spokesperson for Mayor Eric Garcetti said the “bill is still too blunt for our single-family home areas.”

Though SB 827 has attracted national attention, it is yet to have a hearing in Sacramento.

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