SB 827 architect and California State Senator Scott Wiener.
SB 827 architect and California State Senator Scott Wiener will have to go back to the drawing board. Rich Pedroncelli/AP

SB 827 was killed in its first committee hearing. But for State Senator Scott Wiener and his YIMBY allies, the battle to increase California’s housing supply has just begun.

An ambitious zoning bill in California that was aimed at alleviating the state’s acute housing shortage has not survived its first committee hearing. On Tuesday night, legislators killed SB 827, which would have allowed the construction of apartment buildings up to five stories tall near every high-frequency mass transit stop in the state.

SB 827 sparked a spirited debate about how the state should address its housing crisis. Its lead sponsor, State Senator Scott Wiener, argued that wresting zoning decisions away from local municipalities and forcing communities to build more densely near transit was the best way to both ease housing affordability in cities like San Francisco and help the state hit its ambitious environmental goals. Supporters of the bill—dubbed YIMBYs, for “Yes In My Backyard”—took on residents from wealthier, single-family home neighborhoods, who deployed the traditional NIMBY argument that the bill imperiled neighborhood character and would lead to traffic and parking woes.

The NIMBY side had some surprising allies, among them the Sierra Club and advocates for “Public Housing in My Backyard,” or PHIMBYs, who argued that the law would enrich developers and exacerbate gentrification in low-income minority neighborhoods.

Few in California argue that the lack of affordable housing isn’t a real problem: At the hearing of the Senate’s Housing and Transportation Committee, elected officials and members of the public on both sides of the issue frequently referenced the state’s severe housing crisis. But the bill’s opponents insisted that SB 827 was the wrong way to address it. Beverly Hills Vice Mayor John Mirisch called it “the wrong prescription,” and Senator Richard Roth criticized its “one-size-fits-all approach.” The amendments added to the bill over the past few months, which scaled back the rezoning and added significant tenant protections, did not sway these critics.

The bill’s supporters, meanwhile, stressed the need for radical change to the state’s current approach to housing, in which long environmental review processes and strict local controls make new developments close to impossible in many areas. “The status quo isn’t working and we need to do things differently,” said Wiener. “We need an enormous amount of new housing at all income levels.”

In the committee’s vote, the bill lost four votes to six.* The only two yes votes from Democrats were from the bill’s authors, illustrating the disconnect between the bill’s progressive goals, and the demands of constituents from liberal (and often wealthy) areas.

Wiener and his YIMBY allies immediately vowed to resurrect the bill for the 2019 legislative session. In his statement about the bill’s defeat, he said he intends “to work on developing a proposal that meets the ambitious goals of this bill, while incorporating what we have learned since we introduced it.”

Wiener also acknowledged how ambitious the bill was, and said he was “heartened by the conversation it has started.” Indeed, the bill was much-discussed nationwide. Vox’s Matthew Yglesias called SB 827 “one of the most important ideas in American politics today,” and the Boston Globe’s Dante Ramos said the bill could be “the biggest environmental boon, the best job creator, and the greatest strike against inequality that anyone’s proposed in the United States in decades.”

And now it’s dead. But SB 827—or the ideas it introduced into the national discourse on housing and development—may yet have a transformative effect.

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the bill lost four votes to seven.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Charts

    The Evolution of Urban Planning in 10 Diagrams

    A new exhibit from the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association showcases the simple visualizations of complex ideas that have changed how we live.

  2. Passengers wait in a German subway station
    Transportation

    The Global Mass Transit Revolution

    A new report confirms that the U.S. lags behind the rest of the world in mass transit.

  3. Equity

    Elizabeth Warren’s Ambitious Fix for America’s Housing Crisis

    The Massachusetts Democrat introduced legislation that takes aim at segregation, redlining, restrictive zoning, and the loss of equity by low-income homeowners.

  4. Barack Obama hugs Rahm Emanuel as Michelle Obama looks on.
    Design

    After Rahm, What Comes Next for the Obama Library?

    Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision to step down may give critics of the library plan more time and room to negotiate.

  5. An iceberg-like museum building on a city waterfront.
    Design

    Scotland Tries for the Bilbao Effect at the New V&A Dundee

    A sparkling new museum on the waterfront opens with high hopes of putting an underexposed city on the map. Will it succeed?