Senate Bill 50 threatens California’s homeowners

In News by Ileana Wachtel

SB50, authored by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, would create a right for developers to buy a single-family home, knock it down and build a multi-story apartment building housing dozens of people on the same small lot.

By Susan Shelley

There’s always a point at which history makes a turn that wasn’t expected, something that leaves blank-faced experts stuttering into their microphones about the unforeseeable nature of the thing, until they look back and see what was invisible to them before they knew what was about to happen.

If history takes a surprising turn in California, they may look back at Senate Bill 50.

This is a piece of legislation that likely would be prohibited by the Endangered Species Act if California homeowners were considered a species worthy of protection.

SB50, authored by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, would create a right for developers to buy a single-family home, knock it down and build a multi-story apartment building housing dozens of people on the same small lot.

In communities defined as “job-rich” or “transit-rich,” such projects would receive waivers from maximum density controls, maximum height limits and minimum parking requirements. Local control over planning would be overruled by the state’s new streamlining process of approvals.

You may be thinking, could this happen on my street? Could my next-door neighbor sell to a developer who will replace a three-bedroom house with a four-story building of 12 apartments and six parking spaces?

Yes, if you live in a “job-rich” area. If you live in a “transit-rich” area, it’s different. In a “transit-rich” area, there would be no parking spaces.

What is the definition of “job-rich” and “transit-rich,” according to SB50?

“Transit-rich” means any location within a half mile of a “major transit stop.” That can be a bus stop with service every 15 minutes during rush hours. “Job-rich” means the area is in a census tract close to job and educational opportunities.

So if your neighborhood has a community college and a bus stop, you could wake up one morning to find the house next door surrounded by a construction fence and about to become a four- or five-story apartment building with no parking spaces.

They couldn’t do this if you were a spotted owl.

But the endangered California homeowner is not protected. In fact, homeowners are blamed for everything from climate change to the loss of music education. Now homeowners are blamed for the state’s lack of affordable housing.

If you’re having trouble following the logic of that, get your mind out of the 18th, 19th or 20th century, when Americans fought wars for freedom, and get “woke.” Boxy apartment buildings and public transit are California’s future, according to our supreme rulers in the Cowtown Kremlin.

Sacramento’s Iron Curtain is the “urban boundary,” an invisible line to prevent the “sprawl” of new suburban developments in outlying areas, the kind of places where people can afford to buy homes with a yard for the dog and a driveway for the basketball hoop. Instead of building new communities, the plan is to increase the density of the existing ones.

There are problems with this misguided policy. Knocking down affordable older homes or apartment buildings and putting up costly new apartments often means lower- and middle-income families are displaced in favor of gentrified new developments they can’t afford. In other neighborhoods, the preference for “urban infill” over sprawl means knocking down low-rise commercial buildings where people once had jobs and replacing them with high-rise residential buildings where people now have needs.

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People need schools, water and electricity, and sometimes they need rent subsidies, health care, social workers, police, paramedics and firefighters. So instead of old commercial buildings generating tax revenue, communities have new residential buildings generating a demand for higher taxes.

Sacramento could never do this to your habitat if you were a greater sage grouse. If you were a Delta smelt you’d control the whole state. At this time, however, humans are the only species allowed to vote in California’s elections, and if the law won’t protect human habitat, it’s very likely that the voters will.

If the Legislature passes and the governor signs SB50, it will be an act of war on homeowners in every city in the state, of every age and income level, across the political spectrum. It won’t go unnoticed.

And history’s next unexpected twist may be a right turn in California.

Susan Shelley is an editorial writer and columnist for the Southern California News Group. [email protected] Twitter: @Susan_Shelley.