Preservation Zones at Risk?

After many revisions to unpopular SB 50, compromise for housing bill may be near
Fridays on the Homefront
One issue that accompanies State Bill 50 for preservation advocates is that the bill
will compel rezoning large portions of cities throughout California, location to many mid-century modern homes and commercial buildings, not to mention heretofore secure historic zones. Critics of SB 50 have called it "a handout to greedy developers."
Fridays on the Homefront
How could Eichlers and other single-family housing in California's modern neighborhoods be affected by SB 50?  Photo: Sabrina Huang
Fridays on the Homefront
California Senator Scott Wiener

Like lovers of sausage who can't look away despite the adage not to watch it being made, advocates of historic preservation and opponents of gentrification are scrambling to scrutinize the latest complicated revisions for far-reaching legislation to Senate Bill 50 that has threatened to override Historic Preservation Overlay Zones in California.

But the appropriate metaphor for this law isn't sausage. It's shoes.

Criticized as a lumbering, one-size-fits-all mandate, thanks to extensive resistance the past two years, SB 50 is now a shoe store full of sizes, styles, and widths with a fit that is difficult to predict.

State Sen. and former supervisor Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) worked hard at the packed April 24 meeting of the Senate Governance and Finance Committee to compromise his bill to be gentler with smaller cities and counties. Consequently, SB 50 vaulted two hurdles, gaining a treasured committee endorsement and killing a rival bill by Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) drafted largely to protect that region north of S.F.

The issue for preservation advocates is that the bill will compel rezoning large portions of cities from Santa Rosa to San Diego, location to many mid-century modern homes and commercial buildings, not to mention heretofore secure historic zones.

The bill provides development incentive for four- to five-story apartment buildings and four-plexes in areas previously zoned for single-family housing or other uses, especially near train and bus lines. Parking requirements are very limited.

"The legislative process for SB 50 is far from over, but today is a big win for the legislation and for Californians, so many of whom need housing," Wiener said in a set of Twitter posts on April 24. "We have a united front behind SB 50 to reform CA zoning and address our housing crisis."

Considering the bevy of city officials and tenants' rights advocates who lined up at the hearing that day to contest the measure—including representatives from Danville, Pleasanton, Orinda, Walnut Creek, Beverly Hills, and Redondo Beach—Wiener may be overstating his support.