Supporting a motion introduced by Council Member David Ryu and seconded by City Council President Herb Wesson, the full Los Angeles City Council yesterday voted 13-0 to formally oppose State Senate Bill 827, introduced to the State Legislature recently by Bay-area State Senator Scott Wiener. The bill, if passed, would override most local zoning laws throughout the state, and allow construction of buildings up to 85 feet tall (8-10 stories) on most residential lots within half a mile of major bus and rail transit lines (which would include most of urban Los Angeles). As currently written, the bill would also override local historic zone restrictions, and would not include any specific provisions to incentivize or require construction of low or moderate income housing.
The vote puts Los Angeles, the largest city in the state, on record as opposing the controversial bill.
Before the Council’s vote yesterday, Wesson opened the floor to public comments, and 17 of the 20 speakers – many of them representatives of affordable housing advocacy groups – spoke in favor of Ryu’s motion, and in opposition to SB 827. Only two speakers spoke in opposition to the motion and in favor of SB 827 – one from the Valley Industry Commerce Association (VICA), a business advocacy group from the San Fernando Valley, and one representing the Greater Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. Both speakers noted the severity of the current housing crisis in the city, and the dire need to fast-track construction of new housing units, especially those near public transit.
The SB 827 opponents did not disagree with either of those points, but also generally agreed that the “one size fits all” approach of the bill, and taking away cities’ ability to plan and control their own growth, is the wrong approach and potentially disastrous to the future development of Los Angeles . Among their comments:
- SB 827 would “undo all of the work that has already been done” to address the need for affordable and transit-oriented housing in Los Angeles, including Measure JJJ and the new Transit Oriented Communities incentives program
- SB 827 would depend on long-discredited “trickle down” effects to create more affordable housing, and would simply increase gentrification without any broader benefits
- Historic neighborhoods would be “destroyed,” and the rapid and extreme increase in density that would result would bring an “environmental apocalypse” to the city
- SB 827 “is not a housing bill, it’s a real estate bill,” and it would be “a wrecking ball for our residential communities”
- The bill is a state “power grab” from cities
- The bill would bring “development on steroids” and undermine existing affordable housing, forcing out working people who want to stay in their current neighborhoods
- While the bill tries to do the right thing (building more housing), it takes the wrong approach and would result in less affordable housing than we currently have, not more
- “Any legislation that basically tells citizens to ‘shut up’ is highly suspicious.”
- SB 827 would encourage construction of even more luxury housing, which is “exactly the opposite of what we should be doing” and will destroy LA’s existing historic preservation ordinances
- It’s a one-size-fits-all approach when decisions on housing should be made at the local level, specific to each city and neighborhood
- “Shockingly un-democratic”
- The gentrification the bill would bring would push the very people who depend on public transit away from it
After the public comments, eight of the 13 Council Members present also took time to speak in favor of Ryu’s motion, and in opposition to SB 827.
Ryu, the author of the motion, spoke first, acknowledging the housing crisis and saying SB 827 is “a well-intentioned bill that would uproot our communities and lead to massive displacement.” He also said it would be a “massive give-away to real estate developers.”
Council Member Paul Koretz agreed with Ryu, saying “it’s like we have a competition to decide who hates this bill more – me or you – and it’s a close competition.” The loss of local planning control and zoning restrictions in historic areas, Koretz said, would be “devastating” to his district, which contains several Historic Preservation Overlay Zones. “This bill is insanity,” he said. “The craziest bill I’ve ever seen.”
Other Council Members echoed the remarks of the people who spoke during the public comment section.
Jose Huizar agreed that taller buildings near transit stops make sense, but said the state shouldn’t take away local planning control, which is “fundamentally important.” SB 827, he said, gives away a lot without giving much back, especilly in terms of affordable housing.
Mike Bonin also acknowledged that the housing crisis is extreme and that current planning and development systems aren’t working. But he said SB 827 “overreaches dramatically.” Los Angeles, he said, is a “city of neighborhoods,” and without the ability to plan and make development decisions locally, the city’s character will be lost. Bonin said better alternatives would be to repeal the Costa-Hawkins act (which prevents rent control in newer buildings), fix the Ellis Act (which allows tenant evictions to demolish a building or otherwise remove it from the rental market), and continue efforts underway to rewrite our local Community Plans to better determine how and where people will live in the various parts of Los Angeles. “We can’t freeze the city in amber,” he said, “but we also can’t blow up our neighborhoods.”
Mitch Englander, who also represents historic areas of the city, called the current housing issues a “crisis of unprecedented breadth,” but said eliminating HPOZs is not the way to solve the crisis. “We need a bill that peserves local control and protects our HPOZs. We don’t need to sacrifice our history.”
Joe Buscaino agreed that SB 827 is “too blunt a tool,” and that it has “taken a chainsaw instead of a scalpel” to the problems it tries to address. Paul Krikorian added, “with a solution like this, all discussion ends.” He suggested that the state could do better by spending some of its current budget surplus on the affordable housing trust fund. And Gil Cedillo said the state could help more appropriately with the repeals or reforms of the Costa-Hawkins and Ellis Acts, as well as the California Environmetal Quality Act.
Several of the Council Members noted that even if efforts to defeat SB 827 are successful, the sentiments behind it will remain, and another similar bill will likely be re-introduced at the state level, perhaps repeatedly…so the fight is far from over.
In fact, Koretz said he met with LA County’s legislative delegation recently in Sacramento and “thought they would get it,” but found them instead “very circumspect” when it came to SB 827. He said “the problem with this bill could be our own local representatives,” and cautioned that despite the Los Angeles City Council vote, local state legislators may still support it. “They need to hear from everyone here,” Koretz said. “We all need to work if we want to defeat this terrible bill.”