By Rick DeGolia
State Senate Bill 50 is focused on a serious problem that all of California faces: the need for housing, especially affordable housing. This is felt in every community. It is acute in suburban communities where teachers, police, municipal employees and service workers have extremely long commutes because they can't find local housing. This is not healthy. Commutes of 90 minutes or two hours take people away from their families, create stress and result in enormous pollution. We have to craft solutions to address this problem. That is the goal of SB 50; however, SB 50 doesn't currently provide a solution that is good for all of California.
I believe that there are three takeaways for SB 50. First, SB 50's solution is an urban solution that is a windfall to developers who would apply its mandate in the suburban, single-family home environment. SB 50 enables developers to build four-story multi-family apartments within a half-mile of a train or BART station, and it would override local zoning to allow these buildings to have no parking. It is unreasonable to think that people living in an apartment without stores, restaurants, and other amenities within a half-mile will not have at least one car per unit. Everyone will have a car and they will be parked on the streets, mostly in existing single-family neighborhoods.
Second, the way to really solve the affordable housing problem, at least in suburban communities, is to encourage people to rent empty rooms and accessory dwelling units in their homes. This has been encouraged for years by nonprofits, but there is no economic incentive.
To maximize available unused housing, the Legislature should make any rent for a room or ADU for more than 90 days nontaxable. To create an incentive for affordable housing, at least the rent should be nontaxable if it is "affordable" and, in every case, the rent should be nontaxable if the renter is a teacher or police officer. This will enable teachers, police and others to live in the communities in which they work.
Also, there needs to be a law that assumes any rental to teachers or police is not a conflict of interest, unless there is specific evidence of a conflict. Finally, renting at less than the market rate shouldn't be taxable to the recipient.
Third, the Legislature has worked very hard to drive California to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Our electricity is increasingly clean and there are significant advances in this area. The largest source of pollution in the state is transportation.
Peninsula Clean Energy has launched a program to deploy 3,600 electric-vehicle charging stations in San Mateo County to encourage and enable more people to purchase EVs; however, an enormous impediment to EV purchase is that 50% of San Mateo County residents live in multi-family buildings and there isn't an inexpensive way to enable charging in those buildings. If SB 50 mandates multi-family development without parking, then it guarantees that those residents are much less likely to purchase EVs. SB 50's no-required-parking mandate is in opposition to California's efforts to encourage people to purchase EVs.
Rick DeGolia is serving his second term on the Atherton City Council. He is Atherton's representative on the Peninsula Clean Energy board of directors.