Tomorrow – on Tuesday, August 19, SB 1120 – one of five new state-level bills that are part of a larger “Housing Production Package” that replaces last year’s failed SB 50 – is set for a vote in the state Senate Appropriations Committee…where it is expected to pass and move on to the full Assembly.
As the vote tees up, however, local housing advocates who oppose the bill are preparing for the fight. One such group, the South LA Alliance for Locally Planned Growth, a coalition of several neighborhood groups and organizations originally formed to fight SB 50, held a community town hall meeting on Saturday to present the details of the bill, explain the group’s opposition to it, and to put out a call for action as the bill is poised to move forward tomorrow.
Opening the presentations at Saturday’s online meeting, which drew nearly 675 people at its peak, John Gonzales, the Land Use Co-Chair of the Baldwin Hills Estates Homeowners Association, explained that SB 1120 would allow current single-famlily homes to be divided, by right, into duplexes or replaced with new duplex construction. And each of those homes would also, according to existing laws, be allowed up to two Accessory Dwelling Units, thus potentially allowing up to four units per lot. In addition, Gonzales said, current single-family lots of more than 2,400 square feet (which he said amounts to about 98% of all single family lots in the city) could also be divided, by right, into two separate lots, each of which could then hold a duplex and two accessory dwelling units, resulting in what could be as many as eight new by-right units on many parcels that now hold single family homes. And SB 1120 would also waive most parking requirements in residential zones.
Gonzales said that in addition to the densification, which would significantly change the character of many low-density neighborhoods, one of the major problems with SB 1120 is that it treats all neighborhoods and lots the same way. So, for example, a 2,400-square-foot lot in a working class neighborhood would be allowed the same number of units as a 20,000-square-foot lot in an upscale suburb, putting a much greater burden on the urban neighborhood with smaller lots.
Also, as Gonzales pointed out, many of LA’s older urban neighborhoods in the mid-city area and further south do not suffer from a “missing middle” problem that other neighborhoods struggle with. In fact, he said, many of our older urban neighborhoods were originally developed with, and still retain, a diverse housing mix including single family homes, duplexes, fourplexes and small apartmets, which could be lost with SB 1120.
Fnally, Gonzales said SB 1120’s upzoning would encourage the replacement of older homes with newer, market-rate construction, which would encourage gentrification of older, more affordable areas, and force out longtime residents of more modest means. And there are no requirements in SB 1120 for any of the new units to be reserved for any level of low or moderate-income tenants. In short, he said, although the bill does provide exemptions for properties in designated historic districts, and properties that have been rented in the last three years, “this bill is a give without a get” for many of our urban neighborhoods.
City Council Member Herb Wesson took up the torch after Gonzales, saying that SB 1120 is “one of the biggest insults and slaps in the face to our community that I can remember.” He said that it’s not just poor legislation, but also “bad form” to introduce such sweeping changes right now, when both lawmakers and stakeholders are consumed with other issues such as the pandemic and social protests.
Wesson said that he absolutely agrees housing issues need to be addressed, but solutions shouldn’t be “force fed” at the state level, a process that ignores progress individual cities like Los Angeles have already made, as well as the character of our individual neighborhoods, many of which are places where African-Americans and other working class groups have put down long and deep roots. “So many people saved every dime [to buy homes in their neighborhoods] because they found a place they wanted to live until they die,” Wesson said.
Wesson also noted, however, that unlike last year, when the City Council was united in its opposition to SB 50, which proposed similar new statewide housing rules, the Council now has motions both supporting and opposing SB 1120 on the table. Wesson urged meeting attendees to join the fight against SB 1120, warning that the bill is now “within an eyelash” of passing.
City Council Member Paul Koretz, who co-wrote the City Council motion to oppose SB 1120 with Council Member David Ryu, spoke next on Saturday’s panel, saying he’s “just as upset” as Wesson about the bill. According to Koretz, SB 1120 is based on the incorrect theory that building more housing of any type will increase supply and thus make housing more affordable for everyone. Koretz said history has proven this to be untrue, and the reality is that all housing near new developments tends to increase in price, making the overall affordability problem even worse. “This is an all-market-rate housing program,” Koretz said, and at a time when we need affordable housing more than anything, this bill does nothing to address that issue.
Koretz also said that while SB 1120 is the “worst” of the new housing bills currently under consideration, it’s important to pay attention to all of them. And – like Wesson – he said that with everything else going on right now, it’s simply a bad time to push through such sweeping reforms.
Finally, Koretz noted that current city laws require developers to contribute neighborhood benefits like tree replacement, new sidewalks, and street improvements when they build a new project, but SB 1120 contains no such requirements and would supercede current city mandates…even further disadvantaging our over-stressed infrastructure.
Next on the panel was 64th District Assembly Member Sydney Kamlager, who represents much of the Crenshaw district. Kamlager said she suspects SB 1120 will likely pass out of the Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, but it will face a tougher fight on the Assembly floor. To fight the bill effectively, though, Kamlager said it will be necessary to build a large coalition of groups who oppose the bill for many different reasons…and that in addition to opposition, it will also be necessary to start proposing other kinds of solutions to our current housing crisis — because a “vacuum” of leadership allows others to step in with solutions we may not like.
Kamlager, too, spoke passionately about the negative effects SB 1120 could have on working class neighborhoods and communities of color, saying preservation of single family neighborhoods is important throughut the city, not just in wealthy neighborhoods. She noted that many neighborhoods in LA were developed with smaller homes for working families, and at a time when racial covenants kept many upwardly mobile African-Americans and other people of color out of wealthier neighborhoods, it was in the more modest neighborhoods of south LA that they were able to establish a financial toehold and build some degree of personal wealth like white people were doing in other places.
Re-developing and gentrifying these neighborhoods, Kamlager said, would deprive many such families of the small amounts of wealth and stability they have achieved over the years. “They are not living high on the hog,” she said, but many such families do provide homes for multiple generations of their families, and are also taking in other family members who may need a plce to live in these difficult times. “We are doing the most with the little bit of wealth we have,” she said, and we have to find ways to house people “without destroying what we have built.”
Former City Council Member Jan Perry also weighed in on the need for better ways to create affordable housing without displacing current residents, agreeing that SB 1120 “will destory the very thread of what we’ve struggled so hard to build.” One way to do that, she said, would be to renew support for public investment authorities – such as the former Community Redevelopment Agencies – that can work with community voices and incentivize construction of affordable housing.
Several other speakers echoed Perry’s suggestion for public investment, including community activist Romerol Malveaux, who noted that there is already a lot of underused land adjacent to transit corrridors in LA, and that would be a better place to start putting new housing. Malveaux and others also suggested that the city’s Community Plan process, which involves community members directly, is the best mechanism for zoning decisions and figuring out where to put new housing…but the state-level bills would override LA’s carefully considered community plans.
John Mirisch, a three-time mayor of Beverly Hills mayor and now a current Beverly Hills City Council Member, agreed with Perry on public investment, and added that he would also like to see the creation of new “anti-speculation” policies for housing, which would control global and corporate ownership of housing, and put anti-flipping, anti-trust, and anti-housing-hoarding rules into place to help encourage housing ownership for “real people,” especially those who have historically been affected by redlining.
The meeting ended with a call to action asking people to contact their legislators before Tuesday’s vote by the Appropriations Committee, and an invitation to those looking for information, resources, and links to visit http://www.livablecalifornia.org.
A video recording of the full discussion, which ran just over two hours, is available on YouTube at https://youtu.be/QxUrxbOMFFs