California cities would be required to abolish parking requirements in transit-rich areas and allow housing developments at sites zoned for office and retail use under bills that state legislators passed in the final days of the legislative session.
Assembly Bill 2097, which pertains to parking minimums, and Senate Bill 6, which addresses residential projects in commercial zones, are among the most ambitious housing proposals that are now on their way to Gov. Gavin Newsom's desk for final approval. Both bills cleared the state Legislature in the last week.
The bills are coming at a time when cities across the state are updating their Housing Elements to come up with ways to meet increasingly ambitious state housing mandates. Palo Alto, which is now finalizing its list of potential housing sites, is considering policies such as increasing allowed density in areas zoned for multifamily housing and converting manufacturing sites along San Antonio Road for residential use.
SB 6, which is authored by Sens. Anna Caballero, Susan Eggman and Susan Rubio specifically targets underperforming commercial sites such as strip malls that have ceased to be viable as customers shift to online shopping. The authors argued in the legislative analysis for the bill that SB 6 "allows for the transformation of underperforming commercial sites into mixed-use use centers with residential units, with some affordability restrictions, often in locations that are well connected to major transportation routes."
The bill has been supported by advocacy groups such as California YIMBY, the Bay Area Council and Housing Action Coalition. Critics, however, have characterized the bill as another Sacramento overreach and an affront to local control. The cities of San Jose and Milpitas have both opposed SB 6, as have groups such as Livable California and Catalysts.
While the majority of the Democrats in the Legislation supported the proposal, Sen. Josh Becker was one of six Senate members who voted against it. In an interview Tuesday, he said he was concerned that the bill chips away at local control at the very moment when mayors and city councils throughout the region are working to meet the state's housing targets.
"They are working in good faith to do so," Becker said. "My philosophy is, let's give them a chance to do that without the state also coming in and saying, 'You've got the Housing Element sites and now you have all these other parcels up for the development too.'"
Becker also said he opposes the two new bills that pertain to accessory dwelling units, AB 2221 and SB 897. The bills revise development standards for accessory dwelling units by, among other things, restricting a city's ability to impose front setback requirements and increase minimum heights for these structures near transit areas. SB 897 also requires that all standards imposed on these structures must be "objective" and not subject to interpretation by approving bodies.
Becker said he was particularly concerned about the rule that would allow accessory dwelling units in front setbacks. He noted that legislators have already passed numerous laws in recent years pertaining to accessory dwelling units and that the new proposals by Assembly member Sharon Quirk Silva, who authored AB 2221, and Sen. Bob Wieckowski, author of SB 897, may go too far.
"We've done so much work to encourage ADUs. Let's let those settle in," Becker said.
He was more supportive of AB 2097, a bill by Assembly member Laura Friedman that removes parking requirements for commercial and residential projects within half a mile of public transit. Under amendments approved by the state Senate, cities would be allowed to maintain parking minimums if they make written findings showing that not doing so would hinder their ability to meet their goals for building housing for low-income residents, elderly residents or individuals with disabilities.
The provision allowing cities to appeal for exemptions would not apply to developments with fewer than 20 residences or to those that dedicate at least 20% of their total units to affordable housing.
Critics of the bill claimed that the bill reduces local control. The city of Newport Beach stated in its argument that cities, rather than the state, are "best suited to determine the parking needs of development projects in their jurisdiction." Supporters countered that the bill would encourage alternatives to driving and make housing construction more affordable.
"By reducing the overbuilding of parking, this bill would reduce traffic, greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, reduce the cost of housing to renters and homeowners, and improve the prospects of small neighborhood businesses fighting to survive during the pandemic," wrote the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Research Association (SPUR), which supports the bill.
Friedman noted in the argument supporting the bill that the legislation "does not prohibit property owners from building on-site parking."
"Rather, it would give them the flexibility to decide on their own how much on-site parking to provide, instead of requiring them to comply with a one-size-fits-all mandate," she wrote.