Could Scott Wiener really be West Hollywood’s state senator?
The San Francisco Democrat, who represents that city in the state Senate, is gay, as are 40% of West Hollywood’s residents. But that isn’t what matters.
What matters is that he’s the continuing force behind two pieces of legislation that could have a major impact on West Hollywood, in a good way.
As the San Francisco Chronicle has reported, Wiener is re-introducing, for the third time, a bill that would allow West Hollywood and eight other California cities to extend their bar serving times until 4 a.m. The Let Our Communities Adjust Late Night Act (LOCAL) passed last year but was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown, whose successor, Gavin Newsom, might not agree with Brown’s assessment that LOCAL would “add two more hours of mayhem” by increasing drunk driving. Local bar owners, and the West Hollywood City Council, have endorsed the 4 a.m. limit, arguing that it will increase business in a city whose economy is built on tourism and entertainment. Given that Newsom is the founder of a winery, Wiener’s new SB 905 might have a chance.
But perhaps more important to our city is Wiener’s approach to the affordable housing crisis, an issue where the NIMBY’s dominate in increasingly gentrified West Hollywood (soon home to three expensive private clubs but not yet to a center for the homeless). Wiener will be reintroducing a modified version of a previous bill, SB 827, which didn’t make it out of the Transportation and Housing Committee last year. SB 827 would have overridden local rules on height, density and parking for residential projects near transit hubs and/or so-called “high-quality” bus lines.
In doing so, SB 827 would have permitted construction of four- to five-story apartment buildings near train or subway transit hubs (which West Hollywood doesn’t have) and higher density projects within a quarter mile of bus routes that offer stops no fewer than 15 minutes apart during rush hours (of which we have plenty.) And it would have let developers of projects within a quarter mile of those bus lines (effectively all of West Hollywood) ignore the city’s onerous parking space requirements.
Wiener’s initial bill, SB 827, was strongly criticized by nearly everyone. The Los Angeles City Council and the Beverly Hills City Council took stands against it, as did our council members John D’Amico and Lauren Meister, who outlined their opposition in an op-ed on WEHOville. Some activists in low-income communities in Greater Los Angeles also opposed it, arguing that it would lead to more construction of expensive apartments in their neighborhoods, pushing out low-income residents. They also complained that it didn’t require developers to include affordable housing in a project.
Wiener said he listened to the objections. His new bill, SB 50, would require developers to meet a city’s standards for including affordable housing in a project (in West Hollywood that means 20% of all units in a building of 10 or more units must be rented at “affordable” rates). In cities that don’t have such requirements, developers would have to follow similar state standards.
Developers would not be able to apply the benefits of SB 50 to rental properties occupied by tenants within the previous seven years or whose owners have evicted tenants under the Ellis Act. The new bill would give low-income communities faced with a high risk of gentrification or displacement of current residents time to develop plans for more affordable housing before they are governed by SB 50.
The new bill would still have a major impact on West Hollywood, one that some will see as negative but actually is quite positive when it comes to increasing the availability of housing and thus reducing housing costs.
SB 50 would require denser development in more affluent and “job-rich” communities, whether or not they have subway or rail stations, and it would allow developers in “transit rich” neighborhoods to get a waiver from height limits if they meet certain requirements for affordable housing, which haven’t yet been specified.
Such projects also wouldn’t be required to meet West Hollywood’s parking requirements, which effectively encourage the use of cars, an environmentally bad habit in a city that claims a clean environment matters, has been designated one of the most walkable in America and offers its residents free shuttles and easy access to Metro buses.
It’s true that SB 50, if passed and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, will rob the West Hollywood City Council of some of its power to govern the development of our city. But when you don’t use that power to encourage the development of more housing – ultimately the only way to bring housing costs down – you have only yourself to blame.
So if SB 905 and SB 50 pass, West Hollywood will have something to celebrate. Perhaps our mayor will consider giving Sen. Wiener the key to the city and declaring a “Scott Wiener Day” so the 78% of us who are renters can celebrate