The Power of Single Family Homeowners and SB50

If single family homeowners’ power can be harnessed it could mean the end of SB 50, the controversial bill designed to grant state authority to override local zoning laws in order to build high-density housing near transit lines.

Sen. Scott Wiener hopes to make strides in dealing with California’s housing crisis by allowing for development of multi-housing units near train, ferry and bus corridors that meet certain criteria. But the formula has been attacked as a threat to single family home communities that will see an altered character if the law permits multi-family structures with increased building heights and reduced required parking spaces to be built in single-family home neighborhoods.

The changing character of single family neighborhoods could motivate more middle class residents to consider leaving the state. The phenomenon of losing middle class residents is already been seen in surveys.

Single family homeowners’ dissatisfaction with the way government dealt with them has greatly influenced policy decisions in California. Think of the taxpayer revolt of Proposition 13 and the success of Proposition 218, the “Right to Vote on Taxes” act nearly 20 years later, largely motivated by mistreatment of homeowners under the property benefit assessment laws.

While SB 50 is considered by its author a matter of statewide concern (with some exceptions since he amended out small counties and some affluent small cities), the measure is a one-size-fits all plan for the state to dictate zoning law to local governments.

SB 50 enjoys support from a number of business organizations including the California Chamber of Commerce, the Bay Area Council, and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. Realtors and developers are also on board. Not surprising, as the Senate Committee on Governance and Finance noted, “SB 50 also allows developers to choose the density at which they build, potentially allowing them to maximize profits by building larger luxury units instead of smaller, lower priced ones.”

Opposition comes from tenant groups, many cities, and notably a handful of resident, community and homeowner associations. If that segment of the opposition grows, the bill could founder.

While some of the tax measures mentioned above dealing with home ownership affected all homeowners in the state, the upshot of SB 50 on single family homes is not as wide. Therefore, it will be more difficult to rally homeowners against the bill. In addition, many homeowners may not know the consequences of SB 50 on their neighborhoods until after the bill passes and is put into effect.

SB 50 continues to move through the legislative process. If opponents of SB 50 get the word out to neighborhood groups to oppose the bill, especially in high-population areas with many voters such as Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, that would generate the formidable collective power of homeowners to have a major impact in the SB 50 debate.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily.