Council Takes Stand on State Housing Bills

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    Weighing in on proposals to build high-density housing in California, the City Council voted unanimously to support resolutions opposing three controversial state bills.
    But on the heels of that May 7 vote, the California Senate Appropriation’s Committee declined to take a vote on one of the bills, Senate Bill 50, thus tabling it for the rest of the year. This means the earliest the bill could be voted on would be January.
    SB50 seeks to rectify the state’s affordable housing crisis by allowing construction of four- and five-story apartment buildings throughout the state within a half-mile radius of what are called “transit rich” areas in higher population areas. Because Orinda has a BART station and is in a county of 600,000-plus residents, it qualifies.
    The bill would also allow the remodeling of existing single-family homes that haven’t been lived in for five years and are considered “substandard” into buildings of up to four units in single-family neighborhoods. Vacant lots in these areas could also have multi-unit structures built on them. The buildings would have to provide half a parking space per unit.
    Larger homes could also be built in residential neighborhoods if Orinda is defined by the state as a “jobs rich” community, said Orinda Planning Director Drummond Buckley in his report to the council on the legislation. Buckley said the standard for a jobs rich community has yet to be determined.
    High fire risk areas are exempt from the bill’s provisions. According to Buckley that includes neighborhoods such as Upper El Toyonal.
    The other bills the council voted to oppose are AB1487 and SB330. The first would create a housing agency for the Bay Area that could impose regional taxes to fund development, among other things. The latter, known as the Housing Crisis Act of 2019, would relax rules for building new housing and protect tenant rights, among other things.
    SB50 has come under fire throughout the state for having far less stringent rules for affluent coastal cities of 50,000 or less such as Sausalito. Buckley, who once worked for the city of Sausalito, said at the meeting that such cities may have “better lobbyists” in Sacramento. Orinda has a population of 18,000 and does not have a lobbyist in Sacramento. It relies on organizations such as the League of California Cities to do its bidding at the capitol.
    Before the vote several speakers got up to oppose the bills. Rusty Snow, representing Orinda Watch, said that under SB50 the city’s population could double. “It could destroy our small-town, single-family, semi-rural environment. We need to fight to stop this,” said Snow, who added that allowing multi-family homes along Orinda’s winding, narrow roads would lead to parking congestion and hinder evacuations in the event of an emergency.
    Twenty-year Orinda resident and former council candidate Kathleen Jenkins said the legislation had made her “depressed” because it would destroy existing neighborhoods. She added that exempting Marin and other toney coastal counties was disgraceful.
    Orinda resident Daniel de Busschere urged the council to oppose the bills because they don’t take into consideration concerns of cities. “We’ve done everything the state has asked us to do” with regard to affordable housing, “so why ignore us? We’re supposed to be a partnership but we’re excluded,” said de 
Busschere.
    Before the vote, Council Member Dennis Fay said cities like Orinda are not the cause of the affordable housing problem in the state. He points the finger squarely at counties such as San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara that produce “way more jobs than housing. Those three counties want us to pay for their bad behavior.” Fay proposes that any company creating jobs should have to also pay for the housing required for the influx of new workers.
    After the vote, Fay, a transportation engineer who has had to deal with his fair share of legislation over the course of a 40-year career, said that he’d never seen such a poorly drafted bill as SB50. “It’s litigation waiting to happen. It’s going to be a mess.”
    Paul Kilduff is a freelance writer based in the East Bay. To comment on this story, email editor@TheOrindaNews.com.

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