Zev Yaroslavsky, L.A.’s most respected political figure of this generation, yesterday condemned Senate Bill 50 — an unprecedented attempt by the state legislature to end single-family housing and transform California’s residential streets into tall multi-family rental towers.
In an interview on NBC NewsConference on Sunday, Yaroslavsky slammed SB 50, saying he hopes the California legislature “will come to its senses” and reject the radical concept by state Sen. Scott Wiener. “And if not, the legislature can say that, on their watch, they destroyed communities and cities up and down the state of California. We don’t need to do that. It’s an overreach.”
Yaroslavsky’s analyses have often been predictive of California politics.
Originally billed by Wiener and a handful of Bay Area legislators as an affordable housing law, SB 50 has emerged as one of the greatest legal giveaways to luxury developers in many years. It is opposed by tenants’ rights groups and affordable housing advocates including Coalition for Economic Survival because SB 50 contains no believable way to stop tenant evictions once global real estate players descend to buy up and demolish existing rental housing.
Yaroslavsky, a former Los Angeles County Supervisor and Los Angeles City Council member who championed fiscally savvy, yet progressive, urban policies, accused Wiener of refusing to consider any middle ground, because he’s “carrying water for an industry that stands to benefit.”
Wiener has taken more than $700,000 from real estate interests, and he co-authored SB 50 with a real estate lobby group, many of whose members could financially benefit.
The bill is believed to be the first attempt by any U.S. state to kill its single-family zoning and drastically reduce homeownership in favor of luxury rentals. It’s seen as a test of global real estate’s influence in Sacramento.
Wiener’s bill was amended last week by the state Senate Governance and Finance Committee, which made SB 50 even more divisive than the original version, by carving out affluent smaller cities in which Wiener’s tall apartments towers would be banned.
Yaroslavsky told NBC that Wiener was choosing winners and losers by inserting his own “value judgements and political judgements. There’s got to be a more intelligent way to do it” — to create the affordable housing that low-income Californians actually need.
In a 5 to 1 committee vote in favor of SB 50 last week, state Sen. Bob Hertzberg of the San Fernando Valley strongly opposed the bill. Hertzberg, the Senate Majority Leader of California, was asked to approve SB 50 after having less than an hour to review extensive amendments. Hertzberg condemned the rush by Wiener and the committee to approve a drastic new law as “just wrong.”
The heart of the bill is its 6-story to 8-story towers. Developers would be given “by right” blanket permission to build in low-rise residential communities, without a public hearing, near transit stops or near jobs. Developers can eliminate all parking spaces and yards and offer only minimal setbacks from the street.
In addition to that, major amendments approved last week end all single-family zoning across California, with some exceptions. The amendments encourage developers to buy out homeowners, whether in far-flung suburbs or in famed urban areas like Venice, to raze and replace homes with luxury four-plex mini-apartments averaging about 400 to 600 square feet.
Yaroslavsky, noting that the housing market is finally slowing and that L.A. approved 27,000 new units in 2018 without a drastic bill from Sacramento, said, “The Wiener bill is an overreach, and I think most people understand that.”
Yaroslavsky is now director of the Los Angeles Initiative at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
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