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 firstname.lastname@example.org.