Burlingame officials sided with residents who opposed proposed legislation easing the path for construction of duplexes over the calls of affordable housing advocates urging councilmembers to support the state legislation.
The Burlingame City Council unanimously agreed during a meeting Monday, May 17, to write a letter taking a stance against Senate Bill 9, which would streamline construction of duplexes or allow for subdivision of properties to accommodate up to four units.
Discussion over whether to oppose the bill split critics who feared it would disrupt Burlingame’s quality of life and backers who supported it as a means of reducing the city’s high cost of living.
Ultimately, councilmembers agreed to send the letter because they felt allowing the bill to move ahead would work to strip authority from local officials who have a better sense of how to address the city’s housing issues than those in Sacramento.
“We will work on it as a local community,” Mayor Ann O’Brien said. “Not as a state that dictates what a local community should do.”
Councilmember Emily Beach shared a similar perspective.
“This legislation is just really out of balance by completely disregarding the important work at a local level,” she said.
California Senate President Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, proposed the legislation aiming to facilitate construction of duplexes or lot splits to allow for additional construction on residential parcels. It also catalyzes construction of accessory dwelling units, under a belief that existing neighborhoods can accommodate more units and drive down the cost of living in California.
It was proposed late last year as part of slate of bills dubbed Housing Opportunities For All, which also featured other initiatives from state senators Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco; Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley; and Anna Caballero, D-Salinas.
Local control advocacy groups and other like-minded organizations have opposed the proposals, claiming the loosened development regulations will give way to unrestrained growth that will alter the character of the suburbs and single-family home neighborhoods.
Some residents at the meeting, meanwhile, suggested that lifting the cap on development standards will encourage speculative developers to purchase properties and ultimately drive up the cost of land rather than provide more affordable housing.
What’s more, Burlingame residents opposing the legislation lauded the work of local officials who in the most recent general plan update specified areas suitable to accommodate higher density while preserving the status quo in neighborhoods with single-family zoning.
“I hate to see that zoning and planning is being taken away from our local council and citizens,” resident Laura Hesselgren said.
Meanwhile, those who backed the legislation said it could be an effective tool for fostering a more inclusive, affordable and diverse community.
“The bill would greatly benefit our community,” Ines Escobedo, a former Burlingame High School student who claimed her family was considering moving from her native community due to the rising cost of living, said.
She was joined by a few other former and current local students who claimed Burlingame is becoming a homogenous, wealthy community that excludes those with different backgrounds or experiences.
The perspectives seemingly resonated with Councilmember Michael Brownrigg, who said he shared those same fears.
But he balanced that perspective by contending that the legislation in question is not the right way to address the issue, and that local officials are better suited to thoughtfully manage issues of diversity and inclusion.
“We just don’t think this bill will get it done and it will have negative consequences that aren’t worth it,” he said.
Vice Mayor Ricardo Ortiz expressed a similar opinion, acknowledging the affordability concerns raised by some but ultimately seeking to preserve the authority of city officials over those in the state Legislature.
“At the end of the day, it’s about local control,” he said.