The Demise of SB 50: A New Opportunity for the Bay Area

Senator Weiner’s SB 50, with its state-mandated, developer-dominated, meat axe approach to housing is dead.

But remain alert. Pieces of SB50 are almost certain to start quietly reappearing in other State bills.

As we’ve noted before, the indiscriminate piling of housing near transit stops, won’t significantly increase transit use and won’t have any discernible effect on highway congestion. That’s because except in places where there are abundant transit opportunities, few if any of the incoming new residents will willingly give up their cars. The result of this continued reliance on the private automobile for most trips would be increased traffic near stations and reduced on-street parking, thereby making it more difficult for long distance commuters to access their transit lines.  If wiser heads prevail, the next round of legislation will be distinctly different from the heavy-handed approach exhibited in SB 50. Here are a few principles that should apply:

  1. It can’t be just housing. Transportation woes and housing shortages are part of the same problem and therefore have to be addressed jointly.

  2. No one size fits all. Even if the State leads the effort the affected towns, cities and counties will need to have a say.

  1. In some areas it is not practical to continue deploying mostly empty, regularly- scheduled buses. Instead of sending out ever larger numbers of buses in the forlorn hope that ridership will significantly increase, it is time for some more creative approaches.

  2. In some parts of the region commuters from outlying areas will need to keep driving to their transit stops. If the rail and long distance bus systems serving these areas take riders quickly and reliably to other, more job-centered parts of the region such as San Francisco and the South Bay, more of today’s auto-commuters would avail themselves of the opportunity.

  3. The idea of piling housing near transit stops and calling the job done would be laughable if it weren’t so destructive. Instead there should be walkable transit villages and regional transit centers, complete with significant job opportunities, pedestrian amenities, commercial outlets and services, schools, public institutions and medical facilities. To avoid the need for so much driving, the centers would need to be linked by fast trains and/or fast, out-of-traffic buses, and they would need to be arranged to facilitate local bicycle and scooter travel.

  4. The notion that once the riders are inside the buses, it’s ok to treat them like cattle has run its course and must be replaced with something better. The hi-tech companies figured this out years ago.

  5. Everything doesn’t have to be accomplished by public agencies. Sometimes private industry can do the job better and more cost-effectively.

  6. Absent unlimited public funding, it makes no sense to be jamming housing into places where it costs upwards of $700,000 for a one bedroom unit. Lower land costs and much lower development costs should become the objective.

The State of California has another opportunity to get it right. It is to be hoped that things will proceed accordingly.

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