SB35 Chills Neighborhood Control Over Development.

Recently signed SB35 is designed to expedite contruction of new housing development to meet the latest version of California’s housing crisis.  It’s impossible to browse any news outlet without seeing news on low income housing and affordability in California.  Municipalities, counties, and the state wrestle with this as a political and policy issue.

Struggling with good solutions, the state has succumbed to pressure from the mortgage, construction, and development lobbies to tear down environmental regulations.  The latest incursion is SB35.

The new law (SB35) eliminates CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) review for projects that:

  • Meet underlying current local zoning codes
  • Aren’t single family homes
  • Not on the coast
  • Don’t replace rent controlled housing
  • Pay union wages during construction.

This sounds like a great way to reduce red tape and speed the process of building all kinds of multi-family housing.  For the University Neighborhood, this becomes important for properties like the 17 acres at E. Linden St.  Today the zoning for this property is R1 single family. If the zoning where pursued (by the city) to change that to R2 or R3 zoning we should become very concerned. The change in zoning would allow a large scale multi-family development to go in with no CEQA review.

Another property to watch as a result of this action is located at the corner of Blaine and Watkins. I wrote about the city rezoning properties and specifically called out the Blaine and Watkins property.

The city is working to re-zone 67 sites, about 300 parcels or 395 acres.  This to meet the requirements for low income housing.  The zoning change will have a significant number of R3 or R4 parcels added to the city housing element.

Viewed as separate events, the rezoning for housing element update and SB35 seem innocuous.  In context of SB35 these housing element changes are much more ominous.  Under SB35 any of these rezoned properties can be developed into high density projects without being subject to CEQA review.  In other words the developer has carte blanc on these R3 and R4 properties.  Sometimes this won’t make much difference; in the rare circumstance the projects are complimentary to the existing built environment.

I worry about developments that are proposed without regards to the existing neighborhood.  Often the developer will “involve the community” it’s the CEQA process that reveals the real consequences.  Sadly this is often the case. We need to watch as this evolves.  The city council has already been pressured into approving the housing element changes by a October 15th deadline. It was agendized and approved at the October 10th council meeting.

As a result we have sweeping zoning changes in Riverside and a new neighborhood hostile state law in SB35.  If you’ve got ideas on how we’ll guard against hostile development in the University Neighborhood please post them!  We are gonna need the help.

Remember, it’s our neighborhood!

YIMBY: Yes in My Back Yard. Affordable?

Yes in my Back Yard.

The hand wringing over Riverside house affordability is bringing plenty of irrational thinking from city planning and zoning.   The most recent madness is to re-zone 69 parcels in the city to incorporate of 4700 units of affordable housing.  In our neighborhood, the corner of Blaine and Watkins will see a zoning change to allow higher density housing

As a native of the Midwest, and the St. Louis area I am well familiar with high density housing projects.  Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis is a classic example of misguided scale and policy in public housing.

I’m also familiar with the consequences of high density development intermingled with single family houses.  Frankly, no one wants this governmental housing experiment plopped next door to their house.

We need to see some more heads up thinking about how these housing projects would integrate into neighborhoods.  If developed along the lines of current practice, the low-income housing units will be built in areas with no walkable amenities requiring a cars for transport, not a great setup for someone already dealing with the complexities of low income or poverty.

Building 10 or 50 unit complexes is not a great fit for infill development in our existing neighborhoods.  It will completely fail to blend into any neighborhood.  Every more disconcerting is the density of the concept.  I can hardly think of a street in our University Neighborhood that could swallow a giant development with a major disruption.  Lacking reasonably walkable destinations, University Neighborhood would have trouble serving individuals that are not car capable.

Rather than building large developments I’m advocating small infill and reuse projects to help accomplish the goal of affordable housing at much lower density.  In the University we have the advantage of suburban land use and lot sizes.  Many homes in the area could be converted into higher density uses.  We are all aware of the bad actors in the neighborhood: the absentee landlords, the absent minded owners, and the people that just don’t care. I would propose that the higher density permits only be available to owner-occupants.  I want residents and owners that have skin in the game to benefit from the permitting process, not real estate trusts that are maximizing their yields in our back of our neighbors.

In this way our neighborhood (and the rest in the city) can shift in a controlled and useful way to higher housing density (duplex, triplex, granny flat).  The density change would improve property values and at the same time allow for affordable housing to be more available.  This isn’t a new idea.  Before development and zoning fanatic city management became the vogue, homes were routinely divided into units that served the owner’s needs.  Granny flats and duplex conversions where not that strange and typically integrated well when the owner’s had their own money and neighborhood standing in the game.

This can be part of a long range vision where we can slowly evolve our neighborhood from the post-war suburban experiment so common in Southern California into a valuable, walkable, enclave between the mountains and UCR.

What do you think about this idea?  Comment and feedback on this post.  We need to have our opinions heard by the city council and the planning and zoning commission.