SB 827 is necessary to decrease our soaring housing prices. Construction in the Bay Area is booming, but it isn’t coming close to what it was in the 1970s or 1980s. That’s because cities have increasingly put restrictions on where homes and apartments can be built, driving new residents to even farther-flung suburbs. Luckily, State Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, and State Sen. Scott Weiner, D-San Francisco, have introduced a bill that will enable more Californians to live near transit such as BART and frequent bus routes and will bring rents down.
Back in the 1960s, apartment buildings were legal to build in Berkeley. BART planned investment in a number of six-story buildings along what is now Ohlone Park. Berkeley residents, however, pushed through ordinances that made it illegal to build these apartment buildings. Since then, housing prices have risen, and the Black community has been priced out of Berkeley. There are just as many people living in Berkeley today as there were in the 1950s, despite this being a nation that has seen a doubling of population.
The excuses for not allowing apartments are legion: They’ll block zucchini gardens, add traffic, not look like the surrounding suburban houses. SB 827 relegalizes apartments near transit so that residents will have an alternative to driving, and it removes mandatory parking minimums to encourage residents to use the transit they will be near. Towns are free to have whatever guidelines they want for the physical form of the building, provided that these guidelines don’t reduce the livable floor space below a certain fraction of the lot size. And towns will continue to have their inclusionary zoning fees and other fees that pay for affordable housing and school growth. In fact the San Francisco Planning Department said SB 827 would produce more affordable housing then the current plan for San Francisco can.
Students at UC Berkeley feel the pressure that comes from rent every day, and neither the campus nor the city have done anything to help. SB 827 will lead to developers building new apartment buildings in Berkeley, freeing up older and less desirable ones for students to live in. And after graduation, more students will be able to live in the prosperous areas of the Bay because SB 827 will increase the housing supply.
SB 827 is also good for the environment, which is why Natural Resources Defense Council, Environment California and Climate Resolve all endorsed it. California’s mild climate means less emissions from heating and cooling houses, and people who use transit emit far less carbon and particulates then those who drive. Our future depends on meeting climate goals that depend on increasing public transit use.
Nevertheless, many Berkeley residents, including our mayor, oppose SB 827. They don’t want apartment buildings in neighborhoods inhabited by owners of single-family homes and are worried about displacement, despite Berkeley’s strong rent control and demolition control ordinances. It’s up to us to make the case that more people belong in Berkeley.
Watson Ladd is a resident of the Bay Area.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the author was named Watson Bladd. In fact, his name is Watson Ladd.