Saturday, October 24, 2020
News + Politics Housing A 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.


  1. A landlord fighting state-wide housing under the guise of activism, there’s nothing more Californian than that. Disgusting.

  2. The author of this hit piece, Zelda Bronstein, is a NIMBY landlord, who wants housing to continue to be scarce so her rental property portfolio (now valued at over $30M) can continue to skyrocket in value.

    Channeling the late/great Mary McCarthy: When it comes to housing policy, every word Bronstein writes is a lie, including “and” and “the.”

  3. It’s important to remember that the author is a landlord and homeowner and has profited greatly from the artificial housing shortage she has caused. Follow the money.

  4. Building more housing reduces displacement it does not decrease it. And multi-unit housing is less expensive than a single family home. The real luxury housing is the single family home, which the planet cannot support anymore.

  5. Is there any evidence that building two units on a single-family lot will be affordable? In San Francisco there are many single-family homes on lots zoned R-2. I don’t think very many of them have been replaced with two units in the past 50 years. And those that have been replaced sell for whatever the price per square foot sells for in the area.

  6. allowing a single family home owner to turn their property into 4 units slows gentrification AND gives the property owner the ability to gain more wealth. A single family home is WAY more expensive than 1 of the 4 units on the same property. Overall, it creates 3 new units and 4 less expensive units than the single family home that was there before.

    The woman explaining that people of color use single family homes to help their brethren is flat out idiotic. How is giving them the option to convert hurting them? Options are just that, an option. This law would not force anyone to do anything.

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