Through shifting control of land use policy from local to regional governments, Senate Bill 827 wants to reduce the Golden State’s cost of housing.
State Senator Scott Wiener, the movement’s champion in the California Senate, has proposed a new bill SB 827, that, if passed, would compel California cities to allow dense, mid-rise housing within walking distance of most transit. The bill would affect large swaths of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oakland, and other locations farther afield, near rail stations and along bus routes. If SB 827 passes, it would be the most important step in decades toward upping the state’s housing supply in substantial numbers.
Opponents of the bill portray it as seizing control over neighborhoods from local planners, and they are not entirely wrong. The bill shifts power over an important aspect of land use policy from local decision makers to the state. Indeed, that is the proposal’s greatest strength.
SB 827 shifts power over an important but specific aspect of land use policy—housing density near transit—from the local level to the regional one. Moreover, it does so without otherwise intruding on cities’ autonomy. There is no need to over-constrain local land use policy by overriding it even when its effects don’t transcend municipal boundaries. Of course, the devil is almost always in the details and it certainly will be in the case of SB 827 too, but in shifting control over a defined aspect of land use from the local level to the regional one, this bill gets the overarching principle right.