Senator Wiener Reintroduces Key Housing Legislation – SB 10 – to Provide Cities with a Powerful New Tool to Build More Housing in Non-Sprawl Areas

December 8, 2020

Sacramento - Today, Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced SB 10, which provides a powerful tool for local governments to upzone neighborhoods to 10 unit apartment buildings in an expedited process, as long as the upzoned areas are not sprawl. By allowing cities to increase density in a sensible way, SB 10 will help ease California’s housing affordability crisis and climate crisis, spurred by a statewide shortage of 3.5 million homes. This housing crisis has only worsened due to COVID-19 and its economic impacts. Now more than ever, housing must be a top priority: it is critical that California make it easier for cities to build housing close to jobs and transit in order to minimize displacement and crowding, and to decrease carbon emissions from car commuters.

SB 10 allows cities to upzone non-sprawl areas (areas that are close to job centers and/or transit and areas that are in existing urbanized locations, thus reducing vehicle usage and long commutes) up to ten unit buildings. This streamlining tool would be the most powerful one for cities to increase density. By allowing cities to choose to zone for up to 10 units per parcel, SB 10 will make it possible for cities to build significantly more housing in a way that makes sense within their local context. 

An earlier version of this bill was introduced in 2020 and passed the Senate and the Assembly Local Government Committee. It was killed in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Right now, it is illegal to build any more than one unit of housing per parcel in areas subject to single family zoning. This hyper-low density zoning in existing urbanized areas near jobs and transit leads to sprawl development, which increases carbon emissions and wildfire risk. SB 10 allows cities to increase density up to ten unit buildings in a streamlined way, without having to go through the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Cities will also be able to designate these projects as by right, meaning they can be approved ministerially and without a lengthy approval process.

The 3.5 million homes shortage in California has profoundly impacted the state, and has become even more dire because of COVID-19. With evictions and displacement worsening, our homeless population is increasing, and so many cannot afford to build a life here. 

Climate change is another critical issue that is worsened by our lack of housing production in California. With a record-breaking wildfire season that impacted every Californian this fall – and forced many to evacuate their homes in wildfire zones – sprawl development into wildfire areas has become a key issue. It is more important than ever to concentrate new housing in areas that are not at high risk of wildfires. It’s also important that we reverse the “super-commuter” trend, which increases carbon emissions and decreases quality of life. In recent years, there has been a massive increase in commuters who are mostly low-income individuals who can’t afford to live near job centers and must drive many hours a day to get to and from work. Our homes shortage and zoning laws impact the livelihoods of the people of California, and also impact our environment by increasing car trips and thus carbon emissions. 

California YIMBY is sponsoring SB 10.

“California’s massive housing shortage is driving people into poverty and homelessness and threatening our environment, economy, and diversity; we must take bold steps to end this devastating crisis,” said Senator Wiener. “SB 10 provides cities with a powerful, fast, and effective tool to allow light-touch density exactly where it should be: near jobs, near public transportation, and in existing urbanized areas. SB 10 will help move California away from a sprawl-based housing policy and toward a more sustainable, equitable, and effective housing policy.”

"California cannot keep kicking the can down the road on our housing crisis,” said Assemblymember Robert Rivas (D-Hollister), co-author of the bill.  “Our state needs more housing, and it needs it now. SB 10 will give cities the ability to increase housing supply quickly and will help numerous California families reach a higher standard of living. I want to thank Sen. Wiener for continuing to champion smart housing solutions in our State Legislature."

"Many Californians live in the types of traditional neighborhoods that would be made legal again by SB 10," said Brian Hanlon, CEO of California YIMBY. "The bill grants local governments the option to permit 'missing middle' apartments, condos, or social housing, at up to 10 units each. SB 10 will help local governments meet their regional housing production goals, and will significantly increase the supply of homes affordable to middle-income Californians."

"California needs to build vastly more housing that's located near jobs and transit, and in urban infill areas, which is why we strongly support SB 10 as a much-needed way to make more housing available to Californians and help alleviate our state's housing shortage," said Todd David, Executive Director of the Bay Area Housing Advocacy Coalition. 

“California has a choice,” said Laura Foote, Executive Director of YIMBY Action. “Are we going to live up to our values, are we going to end exclusionary policies and allow our children access to housing and opportunity? Are we going to live up the promise that Black Lives Matter by ending systemic racism in our housing policies? Are we going to build communities of opportunity and access, reducing sprawl and greenhouse gas emissions? Are we going to fight back against the overcrowding and homelessness that made the coronavirus pandemic so much worse? It's time for California to stop talking about our values and start acting on them. It's time to demonstrate a commitment to environmental and social justice by allowing more homes near jobs and transit with bills like SB 10.”

“For far too long economic opportunity in California has been limited by those who have access to a zip code,” said Kion Sawney, Project Developer at Mercy Housing. “SB 10 will provide the tools to cities to begin to correct this wrong and create much needed affordable homes.”