The Case Against Draft California Senate Bill 50

LETTER TO THE SENATE--To the Honorable Members and Staff of the California State Senate:

I have devoted hundreds of hours to reviewing the various bills proposed in Sacramento on land use and housing this two-year session. I have carefully read SB 50 as amended and submit this opposition because this legislation is deeply flawed, fiscally unsound, and contrary to this State’s goals of combatting climate change. SB 50’s provisions amount to little more than statewide deregulation and wealth transfers from public to private sectors without a concomitant public benefit. This Committee should hold the bill for at least the following specific reasons:

  • SB 50 removes conditional use restrictions permitting nonresidential uses in residential zones, imposing additional costs for both density and for commercial infrastructure and services. Have those been quantified? Section 65913.6: Fourplex “Neighborhood Multifamily Parcels” are permitted in all areas of the State and are “not subject to a conditional use permit.” From trash collection to fire and occupancy standards to public restrooms to commercial parking requirements and beyond, this provision is unjustifiable by any of the legislative findings or concerns.


  • SB 50 up-zones coastal zones along all of our beaches and coastal zones other than those in Del Norte County, (a) for fourplex zoning even in small coastal areas like Mendocino, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Del Mar, Malibu, Sausalito, Laguna Beach, Eureka, and all points in between are subject to the fourplex upzoning with its elimination of residential use restrictions under Section 65913.5(b)(2) and 65913.6(b) because every county other than Del Norte is a “local agency” with more than 50,000 inhabitants; and (b) for equitable incentives in coastal cities with a population of over 50,000. Given the State’s emphasis on climate change, rising sea temperatures and sea levels, and generally working toward a green new deal, have the risks and costs of opening up our beachfront property to this type of denser residential and commercial development been assessed and quantified?


  • SB 50 up-zones a number of other hazardous areas from earthquake, fire, flood and hillsides, as well as failing to exempt environmentally sensitive areas. Have the potential costs to state backed insurance programs like the California Fair Plan or the California Earthquake Authority been assessed and quantified? Have the emergency and disaster relief risks and costs? 


  • SB 50 does not build a single unit of affordable housing since any project of any size (including the largest at 351+) can elect to pay an “in lieu” fee or dedicate land to the city or county, resulting in zero affordable housing. Any project also can elect to satisfy any affordability requirement by building an “all affordable” project on land within a ½ mile. Has the expense of continuing displacement without concurrent inclusionary housing requirements been evaluated and accounted for? How will local governments build affordable housing with in lieu fees given the Constitution’s Article 34?


  • Have the standards been set and have the monitoring and enforcement costs been quantified as necessary to ensure that nearby all affordable project is not more hazardous, less safe, less desirable or built with inferior methods and materials than the 100% market rate units built with these incentives? Have the financial and societal costs of a return to low income “project” style housing rather than inclusionary housing been evaluated 


  • SB 50 confers incredibly valuable entitlements in exchange for no or elusive public benefits. Has this Committee valued the up-zoning conferred on private property owners statewide and valued the extent to which a public benefit is obtained? 


  • SB 50 still benefits single family compounds and McMansions because the addition of the term “multifamily” only applies to what the original proponent agrees to build, not what is actually built and the amendments in the definition of “Eligible applicant” allow the incentive to pass to the benefit of a successor, even one who has NOT agreed to build a multifamily project. Was that the intent?       


  • Have the amendments been evaluated in light of the ADU and streamlining bills that just became effective on January 1, 2020?


SB 50 expands the reach of SB 330 and forces cities to conform to the SB 330 accelerated time frame and subjects the city or county to liability without clear objective standards or goals. SB 50 imposes enormous and unfunded costs on cities and counties for the infrastructure and services needed to pay for the increased density and expanded uses to which residential parcels will be subject if it is enacted. It should not be.


(Hydee Feldstein in an independent, Los Angeles based legislative analyst.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.