State legislation would allow denser development

By Gary Walker


State density bonus laws allow developers to build taller, denser projects than city planners would allow in exchange for including a small portion of affordable housing — creating opportunities, some housing advocates say, to increase available residential units in housing-starved regions like the Westside.

Such is the intention of Senate Bill 50, which would require local governments to grant density bonuses permitting taller and denser projects near public transit stops and “job rich” areas.

But density bonus laws tend to be controversial in communities where removing zoning changes from local control can lead to unintended quality life of consequences, such as increased traffic congestion and projects that clash with neighborhood aesthetics.

SB50 is no exception.

Concerned homeowners who attended a meeting of the Del Rey Residents Association last week pressed state and local representatives about their positions on SB50, discussed in the state Senate’s Housing Committee on Tuesday.

“It’s my feeling that [SB50] is too blunt an instrument for me,” state Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) told constituents last Thursday. “It takes the decision-making out of local government’s hands.”

Assemblywoman Autumn Burke (D-Marina del Rey) is a co-sponsor of SB50 — but not because she supports every aspect of the proposal, said Robert Pullen-Miles, Burke’s district director and the mayor of Lawndale.

“She knows that density is a big problem with this bill, and that’s why she wanted to co-sponsor SB50 — because she wants her constituents to have a voice at the table. Sometimes you sponsor a bill so you can try and influence what goes into the bill,” he explained.

Many community leaders are pushing back hard against SB50, including L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin, who also attended the Del Rey Residents Association meeting.

Matt Wersinger, chairman of the Del Rey Neighborhood Council’s Land Use and Planning Committee, said Del Rey might avoid immediate SB50 impacts because there isn’t a light rail station nearby.

“The fact is that Del Rey doesn’t have mass transit options as of now. If we did (the subway down Centinela Avenue or Lincoln Boulevard light rail) the city would likely do their own density changes around any stations, so while we advocate for local control the reality is that we likely wouldn’t be affected by it,” he said.

But fear of density bonus impacts could turn residents against public transportation, warned Del Rey Residents Association immediate past president Elizabeth Pollock.

“Senate Bill 50 would allow construction of huge buildings within one-quarter mile of any street with a bus that runs every 15 minutes, e.g. Washington or Lincoln boulevards. That threat to the residential neighborhoods in Del Rey means that no one will want better transit on Centinela Avenue, Culver Boulevard or any other major street in the area,” Pollock said.

SB50 is “a terrible bill,” said Ken Alpern, chairman of the Mar Vista Community Council Planning and Land Use Committee. “There is no doubt in my mind that SB50 will make housing less affordable, will make our cities less livable, and will continue to ensure that California is less accessible to the middle class.”