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News + PoliticsHousingA displacement housing bill barely dies -- but it will come back

A displacement housing bill barely dies — but it will come back

Measure to turn any single-family lot into four units -- with zero affordable housing -- is the top of the Scott Wiener/Yimby agenda.


On September 9, I  “Zoomed” a conversation between state Sen. Scott Wiener and New York Times reporter Conor Dougherty. The exchange was sponsored by the World Affairs Council of San Francisco.

At one point, Dougherty referred to SB 1120, the measure authored by State Senate President Toni Atkins that had died at 11:57 pm on the last day of the Legislature’s session. Dougherty called it a “duplex” bill. Wiener corrected him: “It’s actually a fourplex bill.”

That pricked my interest, because I’d always seen SB 1120 referred to in the media as a duplex bill. Indeed, that’s how Sen. Atkins describes it herself. I decided to look at the text of the measure. When I did, I discovered that it says nothing about “duplexes” nor “fourplexes.” Instead, it refers to housing “units.”

More precisely, SB 1120 requires cities “to permit ministerially”—no public process, no CEQA review—two things: first, a housing development “containing 2 residential units within a single-family residential zone;” and second, the subdivision of a parcel into two equal parcels (an urban lot split) within a residential zone. In other words: where a single-family home now stands, SB 1120 would require a city to allow four new residences—two on each newly split parcel. Which means that Wiener’s claim—that it’s a fourplex bill—is also misleading.

Even more concerning, Atkins is describing SB 1120 as an affordable housing measure. On September 12, she tweeted thanks to former HUD Secretary Julian Castro “for recognizing the work we’re doing in California to create more affordable housing, and specifically my bill #SB1120.” Atkins linked to the September 1 online conversation about “creating more equitable cities” hosted by New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo where Castro had “applaud[ed] Atkins’ measure.

In fact, SB 1120 specifies no affordability requirements for the four new housing units it would permit ministerially. Which is to say: the bill would require cities to permit without a public process four new market-rate units on a parcel that formerly allowed a single-family home. This is a recipe for gentrification and displacement, as Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager explained to the August 15 town hall organized by the South LA Alliance for Locally Planned Growth. Kamlager voted No on SB 1120.

So did Assemblymember Laura Friedman from Glendale—for a different reason. SB 1120, Friedman observed, made no exemptions for new construction in the urban-wildland interface—a matter of some interest these days in California. Again, four units would be allowed where now just one is permitted. Referencing the huge Tejon Ranch development, Friedman told the Assembly that she’d voted for almost every housing bill in the past few years, but she couldn’t vote for this one.

Atkins, Wiener, and their Yimby allies have made it clear that when the Legislature convenes for its new session on December 7, something very like SB 1120 is going to be introduced. No doubt, they’re drafting that bill right now. If it’s similar to its predecessor, it will face the same opposition.

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