Two Northern California state legislators on Wednesday announced a deal to drive development of high-density housing near public transportation hubs in cities like Santa Rosa, Fairfield and Vallejo, without forcing smaller North Bay towns to allow apartment construction near Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit and Amtrak stations.
The compromise between Sens. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, and Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, both of whom want to reform state housing and zoning laws, provides a path forward for Wiener’s legislation to spur housing projects near train and ferry stations and bus stops with consistent and frequent service.
The bill is among a slew of efforts proposed by state and local officials to address the affordable housing crunch that has plagued Sonoma County and much of California. State housing officials have estimated that California needs to build about 2 million new homes by 2025.
“Today we sent a message that the status quo cannot stand. Our housing crisis hurts families, workers, children, our environment, and the list goes on,” Wiener, chair of the Senate Housing Committee, said in a statement. “We can no longer afford inaction. SB 50 will help ensure that future generations are able to live in California, will help combat climate change by getting people out of their cars and onto public transit, and will create more equitable communities by allowing affordable housing to be built in neighborhoods with good schools and public investment.”
McGuire, whose coastal district stretches from the Marin Headlands to the Oregon border, framed the compromise as a way to avoid a one-size-fits-all law. In a statement, McGuire said housing policies that work in downtown Los Angeles may not be appropriate for smaller California communities.
“And I’m also a believer that no community should see dramatic change, but every community should see some change,” McGuire said.
The McGuire-helmed Senate Government and Finance Committee approved the bill Wednesday, though the legislation has yet to reach the Senate floor. The compromise legislation would create two different sets of rules for counties statewide, depending on whether the number of people living there is above or below 600,000.
Sonoma, Marin and Solano counties are among those in the smaller category, in which only cities with 50,000 or more residents — such as Santa Rosa, Petaluma, San Rafael, Novato, Vallejo, Fairfield and Vacaville in the North Bay — would be subject to provisions that push denser, taller buildings near transit, including allowing an additional story on top of existing local building height rules.
Those larger cities also will be affected by a McGuire-authored clause in the legislation that would remove parking requirements for developments close to transit, such as an apartment complex within a quarter-mile of Santa Rosa’s downtown SMART station.
For months Santa Rosa has been working to encourage denser development near its two rail depots. Earlier this year, for instance, City Council approved a measure allowing apartment complexes within a half-mile of a SMART station to include up to twice as many market-priced apartments as would otherwise be allowed — if developers pledge to build additional affordable housing as part of the project.
Due to months of local policy changes like that, SB 50 as written may not have that great of an effect on Santa Rosa, said David Guhin, the assistant city manager.
This story originally appeared on PressDemocrat.com, also part of the Sonoma Media Investments news network.