Matt Grocott

Who remembers back in January of 2018 when state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco introduced Senate Bill 827? Mr. Wiener’s bill proposed to reduce local control of land near public transit stations. His reasoning was that the state’s so-called “housing crisis” was getting so out of hand, the state needed to step in and take over wherever a major transit stop was close by. A major transit stop was defined as a place where a person could catch a bus or a train; to be close by meant to be within a half mile radius or less of a stop. Cities, according to the state senator, were being too provincial and allowing the “not-in-my-backyard” crowd to prevent housing from being built. Cities were accused of planning and planning but never actually building.

Wiener’s bill was, of course, opposed by local governments and their biggest lobbying group in the state Capitol, the League of California Cities, aided the most in voicing opposition. By April of 2018, the cities had prevailed and the bill suffered defeat while still in committee. If you thought to yourself when reading the opening question above, “I don’t remember,” the bill’s early defeat is probably why. It only made the press briefly and then dropped out of sight.

Usually when a bill is defeated “in committee” as SB 827 was, it either goes away for good or comes back in parts and pieces as add-ons to other bills. However, Wiener promised in October of 2018 that he would bring his bill back in whole with the start of the 2019 legislative session. Here we are in 2019 and he has done exactly that! Of course, it has a new name, and is now known as Senate Bill 50.

In San Mateo County, residents have probably heard of SB 50 because recently the county Board of Supervisors, at the request of supervisors Don Horsley and David Canepa, scheduled a resolution for their consideration that, if approved, would have given support to Mr. Wiener’s bill. However, at their first meeting in March, with the resolution before them, they took a pass. The resolution was set aside as Supervisor Horsley opined about needing to first meet with some of the “stakeholders” in the cities he represents. Mr. Horsley represents District 3 which includes the cities of Atherton, Half Moon Bay, Pacifica, Portola Valley, San Carlos and Woodside. His district also includes parts of Belmont and Menlo Park. While Portola Valley and Woodside may not have any “stakeholder” concerns with SB 50, the rest of the cities in his district definitely would. The same could be said of all the cities in Mr. Canepa’s district which include Daly City, Colma, Brisbane, parts of San Bruno and South San Francisco.

At issue when one considers the rub of SB 50 is the density of a building that could be built right next to a residential neighborhood with single-family homes. If the waivers offered in SB 50 were to be all taken advantage of by a developer, four- to five-story structures with less than adequate parking could show up where unsuspecting homeowners would least expect it: right next door to their homes! Is this how thousands of homeowners in the cities of San Mateo County wish to have their neighborhoods treated if they happen to be near the Caltrain-El Camino Real corridor or even those on the coast living near Highway 1?

When I hear people talking about all the building that has already happened along the Caltrain-El Camino Real corridor, what I hear are voices of concern. They are concerned about the character of their city being changed too quickly, the El Camino Real becoming canyon like, parking spilling into their neighborhoods and the amount of traffic becoming an issue from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

As cited above, Supervisor Horsley said he wished to speak with the “stakeholders” in the cities he represents before taking any action in support of SB 50. He has his work cut out for him! I would suggest that the “stakeholders” are all the individual homeowners who live within a half mile of either side of the Caltrain-El Camino Real corridor and all those who live near Highway 1 on the coast. To borrow two phrases from Wiener’s legislation, those corridors are “transit rich” and are in a “job-rich area.” Not to dismiss the other supervisors, it is all five who need to be talking to the true “stakeholders.” I certainly hope they do so and with the same gusto they gave in canvassing those neighborhoods when they campaigned for election. If they were to do so and then report back what they heard to Mr. Wiener, perhaps he would understand that city planning is best left to cities.

A former member of the San Carlos City Council and mayor, Matt Grocott has been involved in political policy on the Peninsula for 17 years. He can be reached by email at

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(6) comments


The author mentions that cities don't want their neighborhood character to change too quickly. Unfortunately, that is happening regardless of whether SB50 passes or not. Huge office parks have been built (or are in the process of being built, in Menlo Park for example) and are already changing the character of our towns in major ways.

The workers at the companies that are occupying these offices are putting huge pressure on our roads, infrastructure, and housing prices. This has been causing displacement and a lack of economic mobility. Local businesses are having immense trouble hiring people, and schools are cutting budgets due to low enrollment.

Since un-building those offices or forcing those companies to move doesn't sound plausible or good, building housing and infrastructure to accommodate these new jobs is the only logical solution. Unfortunately, our local towns have been dragging their feet. SB50 is a necessary measure to accelerate housing development.

Again, local towns and neighborhoods are already changing. We're just now debating how they will change and what we want. Do we want to displace low income residents and create more homelessness and income inequality? Or do we want to build more housing (for all income levels) so that everyone can be accommodated? The answer is obvious; it's a shame the state is having to step in instead of our local communities taking responsibility and moving faster.


Wow. This reads like satire. If I was trying to explain to someone why local control has resulted in an ever deepening housing crisis, I’d point to this article. The author doesn’t even believe we have a critical housing shortage and that views and shadow free streets are more important than a roof over someone's head. We need SB 50.


Many Bay Area cities have only themselves to blame. There is a severe shortage of housing, and many cities aren't doing their part in solving the problem.

Christopher Conway

What if cities don’t want to build high density housing? It is up to elected officials and citizens of that city to determine what development they want. As far as saying they aren’t doing their part for housing, who says that it is their problem to solve? This narrative that cities are obligated to build high density housing against their will is central government type of stuff coming from Sacramento. This is why SB50 needs to be solidly defeated and rejected.

Christopher Conway

Call your elected city officials and your county district supervisor and ask them to take an official stand on SB50. None on this mumbling about needing to do this or that before they make a decision. Pretty clear right now on what they are doing. Politicians are just waiting for the public opinion to cool so that they can shove this down our throats in Sacramento. Thank you to the author as everyone needs to keep vigilant to stop this legislation.


Thanks for the letter and your continued involvement. But some version of SB 50 will probably pass in the State Legislature and be signed by the Governor. Get ready for a statewide REFERENDUM. Signatures must be collecting promptly. Meanwhile, city and county leaders should discuss and agree upon a simple State Constitutional amendment to preserve some local control over land use and be ready to circulate that proposed amendment as an INITIATIVE petition with the REFERENDUM petition.

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