YIMBYs Defeated as California’s Transit Density Bill Stalls
An ambitious zoning bill in California that was aimed at alleviating the state’s acute housing shortage has not survived its first committee hearing. On Tuesday night, legislators killed SB 827, which would have allowed the construction of apartment buildings up to five stories tall near every high-frequency mass transit stop in the state.
SB 827 sparked a spirited debate about how the state should address its housing crisis. Its lead sponsor, State Senator Scott Wiener, argued that wresting zoning decisions away from local municipalities and forcing communities to build more densely near transit was the best way to both ease housing affordability in cities like San Francisco and help the state hit its ambitious environmental goals. Supporters of the bill—dubbed YIMBYs, for “Yes In My Backyard”—took on residents from wealthier, single-family home neighborhoods, who deployed the traditional NIMBY argument that the bill imperiled neighborhood character and would lead to traffic and parking woes.
The NIMBY side had some surprising allies, among them the Sierra Club and advocates for “Public Housing in My Backyard,” or PHIMBYs, who argued that the law would enrich developers and exacerbate gentrification in low-income minority neighborhoods.
Few in California argue that the lack of affordable housing isn’t a real problem: At the hearing of the Senate’s Housing and Transportation Committee, elected officials and members of the public on both sides of the issue frequently referenced the state’s severe housing crisis. But the bill’s opponents insisted that SB 827 was the wrong way to address it. Beverly Hills Vice Mayor John Mirisch called it “the wrong prescription,” and Senator Richard Roth criticized its “one-size-fits-all approach.” The amendments added to the bill over the past few months, which scaled back the rezoning and added significant tenant protections, did not sway these critics.