Eliciting reactions from local groups and Berkeley City Council members, SB 9, a bill currently standing before the California State Assembly, has become a point of contention between both parties.
SB 9 would permit the construction of several units on lots currently restricted for single houses in California. City Councilmembers Kate Harrison and Susan Wengraf proposed that City Council send a letter to the state legislature advocating against the bill unless amendments are made, according to a letter sent to City Council.
“This is a hard-fought thing in California, to protect our beach lands from excess development,” Harrison said. “To say we’re not going to ask any environmental questions is not right from my point of view.”
In the letter from Harrison and Wengraf, the council members noted that they recognized the need to address the housing crisis.
However, Harrison and Wengraf said in the letter they opposed the bill due to what the council members described as “ambiguous” elements and an inability to meet the needs of different Californian cities.
“One of the worst things about it is that it’s a ‘one formula fits all’ piece of legislation. It would apply the same rule to a city such as Berkeley as it would to a city such as Modesto,” Wengraf said.
Another reason for opposition cited in the letter was that the bill would bypass the California Coastal Act of 1976, which established the California Coastal Commission.
The commission is an agency tasked with administering permits for construction in the coastal zone, according to the California Coastal Commission website.
“(The California Coastal Act) is a very important piece of legislation passed to protect the California Coastline,” Wengraf said. “(SB 9) isn’t in the best interests of the environment.”
SB 9 would also bypass the California Environmental Quality Act, according to the letter. The act asks that state and local government agencies alert the public of the potential environmental effects of a project while suggesting possible alternatives.
In response to the city’s opposition to the bill, Berkeley Neighbors for Housing and Climate Action, or BNHCA, an organization composed of volunteer city residents, issued a statement supporting SB 9.
“While it’s quite possible that the bill could be changed for the better, we don’t believe Berkeley should be taking a stand in opposition,” the press release reads.
BNHCA argued in its press release that the bill would help remedy the housing shortage in the city.
BNHCA is a group designed to combat climate change by addressing the housing shortage in the city, which it noted forces low-income and middle-income residents to take longer commutes, according to the BNHCA website.
According to Wengraf, SB 9 would not mitigate the housing crisis since prices would remain high regardless of increased units.
“I just hope that my colleagues on the council understand that this is a very poorly thought-out piece of legislation that will not solve the problem,” Wengraf said.