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Wiener bill allowing taller buildings near transit dies in committee

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SB 827, a bill by state Sen. Scott Wiener that would have rezoned areas close to transit to allow for taller, denser housing developments, died in committee in Sacramento Tuesday. (Jessica Chrisitan/2016 S.F. Examiner)

SB827 is dead — at least for this year.

State Sen. Scott Wiener’s controversial bill encouraging housing development near transit was voted down 6-4 in a state senate housing and transportation committee Tuesday.

Senators from across California acknowledged that there is a housing crisis statewide, but offered measured critiques of SB827 — often while praising its intent.

“If there’s not a path this year, there will be a path in the future. This problem is not going away,” Wiener said. In a statement, Wiener said he would introduce a bill next year that incorporates the “ambitious goals” of SB827 while incorporating the concerns of critics.

The bill, co-authored by Senators Nancy Skinner and Ben Hueso, and Assemblymember Phil Ting, would have changed zoning laws to allow taller and denser housing to be built near transit lines in California. Originally it would have allowed ten-story buildings near bus, train and ferry routes.

Advocates from Los Angeles, San Francisco and elsewhere decried the bill’s potential to entice landlords to displace tenants to seek profits from taller development. Westside San Francisco groups also worried it would change the character of quiet low-rise neighborhoods.

Subsequent amendments retooled the bill to only allow taller buildings near train and ferry stops, rather than anywhere along the line, and to exclude bus stops. It also limited height increases to four and five stories depending on the distance from the stop.

In committee, most senators seized on the idea that Wiener’s bill was a “one size fits all” solution to a complicated statewide problem in rural, suburban, and urban areas.

Senator Richard Roth, D-Riverside, said, “Frankly, when local control results in intransigence in local policy issues, I believe that needs to be addressed quickly, addressed properly, and addressed effectively,” but, he added, “my challenge is the one size fits all approach to this bill.”

Yet Senator Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, supported SB827 and argued that by not building enough housing, and pushing people to the margins of metropolitan areas, California housing policies discriminate against people of color and the poor. Those policies, she said, are “racist.”

Though Wiener requested reconsideration of the vote from the Senate, which will supply him with another bite at the apple, he told the San Francisco Examiner it is unlikely to help SB 827 advance this year.

“Unless something significant changes, SB 827 won’t move forward,” he said.

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