The San Carlos City Council chose to not send a letter of support for state Senate Bill 10, a transit- and jobs-oriented upzoning bill, citing concerns for the potential loss of local control over zoning and future unknown changes to the legislation.
“Taking away the rights of citizens and a voter-approved ballot initiative is just the wrong approach to do it. It just says what the people of San Carlos want doesn’t matter,” Councilmember Adam Rak said during Monday’s City Council meeting.
SB 10, authored by state Sen. Scot Wiener, D-San Francisco, proposes giving local governments the authority to upzone any parcel up to 10 units of residential density if located in transit-rich or job-rich areas or an urban infill site.
As currently proposed, the legislation would also allow local governments to override voter-approved ballot measures that limit the ability to implement higher density. Once a new zoning ordinance was adopted, however, governing bodies would not have the authority to reduce the zoning of parcels.
Staff presented the council with a draft letter of support for the concept of SB 10, expressing an interest in being able to rezone parcels up to 10 units and in a provision that would exempt new zoning ordinances from having to undergo a California Environmental Quality Act review.
But the letter hesitated to offer full support of the bill, outlining concerns for removing voter-approved zoning restrictions and for losing the ability to reduce parcel density.
“I don’t know that this letter captures the entirety of the issue,” Mayor Laura Parmer-Lohan, who supported pulling the letter, said.
Parmer-Lohan noted the city is currently engaging with the public on development interests as it updates its Housing Element, a state-required process for determining where new housing goals can be accommodated. Instead of sending the letter now, she suggested the city monitor the process and the bill to potentially share support of opposition in the future.
Councilmember Ron Collins, who pulled the item from the consent calendar for discussion, was also apprehensive to take a position on SB 10 given the potential for legislators to propose amendments to it.
“It’s premature. The bill could change and I think we all need to know more about it,” Collins said.
Councilmember John Dugan agreed with Parmer-Lohan and Collins, suggesting the council take no stance on the bill. While not initially opposed to the legislation, he said he has noticed a number of bills “moving in the direction of removing local control,” and was uncertain about whether SB 10 would do so as well.
He also shared skepticism for whether San Carlos would have an effect on the future of the legislation.
“I don’t think a letter from San Carlos unfortunately will have a lot of sway in Sacramento one way or the other so I generally resist us spending a lot of staff time and a lot of council time looking over and trying to understand these dozens of complicated and seemingly ever-changing bills,” Dugan said.
Vice Mayor Sara McDowell and Rak thanked Collins for pulling the consent item and voiced their preference for sending a letter of opposition instead. Both councilmembers agreed with concerns that the bill would remove local control by allowing the council to override voter-approved zoning laws.
Similarly, McDowell said she has received strong community feedback regarding the legislation and expressed confusion around support for the concept of the bill given what she described as “pretty serious” concerns outlined in the draft letter.
“Concern number one says it would eliminate voter-approved restrictions and it goes too far,” McDowell said. “I think that is a solid reason for us to oppose this because of these pretty serious concerns.”
Despite some strong council opposition, the governing body ultimately chose to pull its letter of support without replacing it with a letter of opposition.
“I think no letter is probably the best option,” Collins said. “I just don’t think this particular bill is ready to take a position on.”
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