The fight over SB50, the housing density measure, is far from over even though the measure has been shelved by a powerful Senate committee chairman. The controversy continues over whether cities should be forced to allow high rise apartment houses in neighborhoods now limited to single family homes, a battle being fought in the state capital, city halls and countless neighborhoods.
The measure by Sen. Scott Weiner was very much on the agenda last Thursday when Los Angeles City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson spoke downtown at the Palm at a luncheon of the Los Angeles Current Affairs Forum, organized by public affairs consultant Emma Schafer.
SB 50 would permit multiple dwellings in big swatches of neighborhoods near commuter train and bus lines. Los Angeles has a limited version of this and we Expo line riders already see the impact with apartment houses going up around train stations. But SB50 would cover much more of L.A. and would affect suburban cities now zoned mostly for single-family developments. It was put aside for the year by the suburban chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. But its opponents fear that, like a vampire, it will never die.
I asked Harris-Dawson about something that has bothered me about the new L.A. residential high rises. Although city laws require them to include low cost housing, some of them seem to have gotten away with exemptions and others have just a few units affordable to the working poor. I told him that I notice a building with maybe 250 units would have only 20 low cost apartments, if that. "Why not more?" I asked.
Harris-Dawson will have much to say about the outcome. He is the new chairman of the Planning and Land Use Management Committee, which determines zoning in the city, and he is close to the powerful City Council President, Herb Wesson.
The city, he said, is torn between neighborhood advocates who want a return to the Los Angeles of the 1970s and those who want to trample over everything. He said he is trying to figure out "what works for all." Neighborhoods from predominantly African American Crenshaw to the Westside and the San Fernando Valley are worried about the demise of the old L.A.
He spoke of "inclusionary zoning across the city." This is when builders are required to include a specific numbers of dwellings renting below market rates in their development before they are granted city zoning. This would differ from SB50 in that it would not target specific areas but would apply to the whole city, and would raise as much controversy. It would be a way of achieving Harris-Dawson's goal of housing for low-income workers near their jobs. Why should a maid, mechanic, schoolteacher, office worker or others have to travel miles to work?
This was Harris-Dawson's first appearance as chairman before the lobbyists, lawyers and transportation bureaucrats who attend Current Affairs Forum events. These tough-minded behind-the-scenes movers and shakers will be watching his every move.