Sara Rubin here, with housing on my mind. That’s partly because a few people have asked me to keep my ear to the ground for housing leads; some of the best rentals in a housing market like Monterey County’s get snatched up via word-of-mouth. But it’s mostly because of the noise around Senate Bill 10, a bill currently pending in the California Legislature, that has turned some traditional allies into enemies.
SB 10, authored by State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, is a big and bold housing initiative. It would make it far easier to develop high-density projects in urban areas that are near transit hubs, theoretically changing the look and feel of certain places to be more urban.
Specifically, the bill would enable local governments to rezone neighborhoods for up to 10 units per parcel, plus up to two accessory dwelling units, if the parcel is located in an urban infill area or within a half-mile from a major transit stop (think a commuter train station or bus station with service at least every 15 minutes during peak rush hour).
Two Monterey County lawmakers, State Sen. Anna Caballero, D-Salinas, and Assemblymember Robert Rivas, D-Hollister, are principal co-authors of SB 10. While their districts are not the urban centers to which the bill applies, their districts are increasingly home to the bedroom communities of commuters who are within reach of their Silicon Valley jobs. That dynamic has all kinds of negative effects on the availability and price of housing, on traffic and on the overall unpleasantness of sprawl. As Rivas said in a press release issued by Wiener’s team when he first introduced SB 10, “California cannot keep kicking the can down the road on our housing crisis.”
The bill has support from groups like the California Rental Housing Association, YIMBY (Yes in My Backyard), various county and city governments including Monterey County, and tech firms like Facebook.
But the bill also has increasingly vocal opposition. On Tuesday morning, I attended a protest outside of Rivas’ district office in Salinas to hear from environmental advocates why they oppose SB 10.
The group, led by organizer Adam Scow (who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2020 against U.S. Rep. Jimmy Panetta), was a surprising bunch of opponents because many of them supported Rivas’ candidacy.
“I am a little bit dispirited by my brother Rober Rivas. I walked many miles to help him get elected,” said Demetrio Pruneda, a Salinas activist. “He is taking into account the needs of corporations more than people.”
Among the specific grievances: This bill does not provide funding for affordable housing. (It doesn’t claim to; instead it would encourage more development in transit hubs, which Wiener reasons would have the effect of creating more housing and therefore contributing positively to prices—something Scow dismisses. When he hears someone at the rally say “supply-side economics,” he retorts, “I call it high school economics.”)
Another grievance is that it intrudes upon voter initiatives, due to a provision that would allow a local government with a two-thirds majority to override an initiative otherwise stopping it from rezoning to build to this density. It’s a pretty narrow carveout—there would need to be an initiative blocking this type of zoning in these types of places for that override provision to come into play—but it has opponents understandably concerned. Signs at the Salinas rally had messages like “SB 10 is undemocratic” and “SB 10 - Your vote doesn’t matter.”
It seems to me like this could be resolved with a pretty straightforward amendment—take out that controversial provision—but Scow seems to think SB 10 is irredeemable. “There’s nothing really good about this bill as far as I can see,” he said in closing.
This is where perfect is the enemy of the good. There’s no reason we can’t push lawmakers to do more on the affordable housing front, but we also need more market-rate housing. We need more housing in general. And we need more housing that is denser and more urban in places that are already denser and more urban.
Caballero responded to protesters with a statement saying she is unswayed: “I’m proud of the package of pro-housing bills that have been introduced this year… SB 10 is one more tool for local jurisdictions to use to make decisions locally about how to utilize infill properties in areas to build the drastically needed housing in their local community.”
Similarly, Rivas doubled down: “We must act to address this crisis—inaction is not an option,” he said in a statement.
In other words, when faced with a crisis of this magnitude we should not aim for perfect when good is better than nothing and nothing is not an option.