State of California Wants to Grab Local Communities’ Land


By Richard Colman

Legislation introduced in the California State Senate seeks to grab land from local communities. 

Senate Bill 50, sponsored by California State Senate Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) will, if enacted, boost housing construction near mass transit lines. 

Senate Bill 50 will give the State of California the power to order construction of apartments within one-quarter mile of a frequently used bus stop or one-half mile of a train station. 

According to Sen. Wiener, “I am excited to work with a diverse group to spur the development of more housing for all income levels . . .” 

However, a California Constitutional Amendment passed by voters in 1950 restricts the state government’s power to grab land. 

The amendment, now known as Article 34 of the state’s constitution, says:  “No low rent housing project shall hereafter be developed, constructed, or acquired in any manner by any state public body until a majority of qualified electors of the city, town, or county . . . approve such project by voting in favor thereof at an election . . .” 

In early 2018, Sen. Wiener introduced a similar bill, Senate Bill 827, which died in committee. 

Currently, there is a shortage of affordable housing in the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area.  Generally, a decent single, detached family home in this region can cost $1.5 million, $2 million, or more. 

Extra Bay Area housing may not be needed.  In June 2018, the Bay Area Council, a business group, released a survey showing that 46 percent of Bay Area residents are considering leaving the region. 

The Bay Area has a population of seven million.  If 46 percent leave the area, the population would drop to 3.8 million.

Another survey, published in Alert, a weekly publication by the California Chamber of Commerce, reported that, “More than three-quarters of voters agree that ‘earning enough income to enjoy to enjoy a middle class lifestyle is becoming almost impossible in my part of California.” 

A group, Livable California, formed in early 2018 to support local control of land use.  The group opposes mandates by the State of California to involve itself in a local community’s rules governing building heights, housing density (houses per acre), and zoning. 

In recent years, the State of California has sought to usurp control over local communities’ land use.  In September 2017, Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, signed Senate Bill 37, which gave the state more power over a local community’s use of land.  In September 2018, the governor signed Assembly Bill 2923, which gives BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) the power to construct extra housing on BART-owned land. 

On Dec. 20, 2018, a plan to build 10,000 new homes in the San Diego area was overturned by a judge. 

At this time, no one is certain if Sen. Wiener will be successful in turning Senate Bill 50 into law.

Richard Colman is the founder and president of Biomed Inc., a biotechnology, publishing, and informatics company.  He is a biochemist and earned masters and doctoral degrees from the University of California at Berkeley.  He lives in Orinda, California.

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