City Manager's Blog

The City Manager's Blog is an online educational tool to provide general information to the community in open communication style. Periodically, the City Manager will post articles of general interest covering topics such as the Town's budget, budget process, capital projects, upcoming meetings, community issues, public safety, and general Town operations.

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Jan 23

What is SB 50?

Posted on January 23, 2020 at 1:28 PM by grodericks grodericks

What is Senate Bill 50 (Introduced by Senator Scott Wiener)?

HousingSB 50, as amended, is State legislation introduced by Senator Scott Wiener. SB 50 was first introduced in 2018 and has subsequently been amended, and released in January 2020. SB 50, as amended, changes current law in a number of ways to address housing development, approval processes, and incentives for the development of multi-family housing. 

Below are some of the major issues around SB 50.

Multi-Family Housing versus Neighborhood Multifamily Project

Under existing law, when a developer submits an application for a multi-family housing development that satisfies specific planning objective standards, it is subject to a streamlined, ministerial approval process. The law allows that application to not be subject to a conditional use permit. SB 50 modifies the definition of a multi-family development in this context to be a "neighborhood multifamily project" and changes the approval and processing process. Under SB 50, a neighborhood multifamily project is a project that would construct a multifamily structure, consisting of up to 4 residential dwelling units that meet the local height, setback, and lot coverage requirements (as they existed in July 2019).

Requirement for California Environmental Quality Act Review?

If a development proposal conflicts with requirements for streamlined approval, a city has 60 days to notify the project applicant. If the city fails to do so, the project is deemed to comply. SB 50 also limits the authority of a city to impose parking standards or other requirements on a streamlined development. SB 50 exempts neighborhood multifamily projects from environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Jobs-Rich Area and Job-Rich Housing Project

JobsCurrent law requires that when an applicant proposes a housing development, that the city provide the developer with a density bonus and other incentives or concessions for the production of lower income housing units. SB 50 requires that the city also grant an equitable communities incentive for projects that satisfy specific criteria. That criteria includes whether the development is either a job-rich housing project or a transit-rich housing project. A job-rich housing project is a residential development within a jobs-rich area. A residential development is considered to be within a jobs-rich area if both of the following apply:

1) all parcels within the project have no more than 25% of their area outside of the jobs-rich area; and 2) no more than 10% of residential units or 100 units, whichever is less, of the development are outside of the jobs-rich area.

The city does not define what is or is not a jobs-rich area. The State Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) in consult with the Office of Planning and Research (OPR) makes that determination. HCD gets to determine the areas that are high opportunity and either are jobs rich or would enable shorter commute distances. The particular tracts must meet both of the following:

1) the tract is high opportunity, meaning its characteristics are associated with positive educational and economic outcomes for households of all income levels residing in the tract; and
2) the tract meets either of the following: a) new housing sited in the tract would enable residents to live near more jobs than is typical for tracts in the region; or b) new housing sited in the tract would enable shorter commute distances for residents, relative to existing commute patters and jobs-housing fit.

HCD is required to publish and update every 5 years a map of the state showing the areas it defines as jobs-rich areas.

Parking Requirements? 

No ParkingFor San Mateo County (based on population), SB 50 also requires that developers receive waivers from maximum controls on density; minimum parking requirements and specified other development waivers if the development is located within 1/2-mile or 1/4-mile radius of a major transit stop, defined as a rail transit station meeting specific criteria. 

Ability for Local Flexibility Plans

SB 50 does exempt communities from its provisions if the community has a local flexibility plan that has been reviewed and certified by HCD. But, at the present time, no one knows what exactly a local flexibility plan is or what the requirements are. The requirements of a local flexibility plan have yet to be developed by HCD. This was a significant amendment to the legislation; but, it is still largely an unknown target and process. 

Applicability to General Law Cities only or does it also apply to Charter Cities?

The requirements of SB 50 apply to both general law and charter cities. Atherton is a general law city. 

Atherton Remains Opposed to SB 50

The Town continues to be opposed to SB 50 for a number of reasons. (See Mayoral Correspondence Archive for the recent letter of opposition.)

1) Undefined Criteria for Compliance. At present, the requirements of a "local flexibility plan" are not defined in SB 50. Further, the crafting of the definition and compliance requirements of such plans are left to HCD and OPR, with little to no public input, engagement or oversight. SB 50 talks about standards, options for plans, and exemptions but does not define what those are. 

2) Conflict with Climate Action Goals. Forcing multi-unit housing with limited to no parking solutions onto communities as a one-size fits all approach does not work. SB 50 solutions are in direct conflict with the State's climate goals of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In Atherton, where there is no commercial development, residents need to travel miles to obtain food and other items. Putting multi-unit development in Atherton but eliminating parking forces the use of ride share services and other similar solutions; instead of encouraging the use of parking solutions that use EV charging opportunities resulting in GHG reductions. 

3) Lack of Credit for Institutional Housing. Atherton, like many communities, is home to institutional housing for students and teachers that are a part of local educational institutions. SB 50 and other State housing law fails to give credit to communities that accommodate such affordable housing solutions. 

Commercial Development4) Disregard for Unique Community Character. SB 50 does not take the individual unique character of communities into consideration. Atherton has deliberately developed in its own way, since incorporation, as nearly 100% residential. This unique community character has been sustained in the midst of surrounding communities that have chosen to develop large commercial developments and infrastructure while neglecting commensurate plans for housing and transportation to serve those developments. As a result, the Town faces increased commute traffic congestion, a deterioration of our local roads, increased noise, and threats to local emergency response capabilities due to gridlock. While Atherton has been careful in its development decisions; our neighbors have not. SB 50 rewards their behavior and usurps local control to force the Town to change its community character to accommodate the impacts caused by adjacent, short-sighted development decisions. 

5) Usurping Local Control. In the end, at its heart, SB 50 usurps local control over land use decisions unique to each municipality. Local zoning and land use decisions are best left to the local agencies and local officials that are responsible to the communities they serve. 

Legislative Contacts

Senator Scott Wiener Contact
District Office
455 Golden Gate Avenue, Suite 14800
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 557-1300

Senator Jerry Hill Contact
District Office
1528 South El Camino Real, Suite 303
San Mateo, CA 94402
(650) 212-3313

Thanks for reading!

George Rodericks
City Manager
Town of Atherton