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By Tim Hunt

High-density housing bill clears major hurdle

Uploaded: Apr 25, 2019

A San Francisco state senator’s bill to require higher density housing near transit stations cleared a major hurdle Wednesday when it passed a key committee.
The bill merged provisions from SB 50 by Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) with a bill by Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg). Provisions of McGuire’s bill exempts smaller communities (under 50,000 population) and counties under 600,000 population (conveniently includes Marin and Sonoma where his residence is located). It also allows only one additional story over the height of existing buildings.
For Tri-Valley communities, the bill’s committee passage means doubling the lobbying effort. Many cities across the state are actively opposing the measure. In Pleasanton, for instance, the parking lot in the East BART station is planned for high density residential to create a high-density neighborhood along with the apartments across Owens Drive. Wiener’s bill calls for four and five story buildings, similar to other apartment complexes in town.
Even more problematic is the ACE train station at the fairgrounds. High density housing there will simply destroy an existing neighborhood. The half-mile provision would allow higher density housing throughout the downtown area—something residents have made clear they do not want during the update process of the downtown specific plan.
Livermore faces similar challenges with both the Isabel Avenue area and the ACE stations downtown and on Greenville Road. Certainly, higher density housing is appropriate in some sites, but mandates from Sacramento are a problem.
The bill’s advance through committee demonstrates how serious some Sacramento politicians are about dealing with the state’s chronic housing shortage. Job-rich areas, particularly in the South Bay, have lagged significantly on housing—driving up prices and forcing lower paid workers into awful commutes.
Mass transit represents a major public investment and one that should be leveraged with nearby housing. The challenge is how to do so without the Wiener bill’s one-size fits all approach.