Guest opinion: SB 50 the wrong solution to state's housing problem


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.

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8 people like this
Posted by Menlo Boomer
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on May 1, 2019 at 8:22 pm

Rick has it exactly right!! Instead of a bold, potentially transformative response to climate change, we need to focus on marginal and symbolic programs, which also ~happen to~ benefit legacy homeowners like Rick and me. Rent on any empty room or ADU is nontaxable, so I get to keep all of it? I can't think of any better approach than that!

Also, Rick nails it with the statement that ~everybody knows~ that people will still buy cars and park them on the street [citation needed], especially in Menlo Park, where, uhhh... parking on the street overnight is prohibited? If anyone knows what "the kids" are up to these days with mobility, it's a business lawyer (Web Link) who lives in Atherton, am I right?

5 people like this
Posted by really?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 1, 2019 at 8:44 pm

If Rick wants to keep his Transit Station (Atherton Caltrain), then I'm certainly looking forward to that large mixed-use 4 story development coming to Watkins avenue!.

4 people like this
Posted by Ruth Wilcox
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on May 1, 2019 at 9:52 pm

Isn't the point of building greater density close to transit stations to 1. increase drastically needed housing and 2. reduce residents' reliance on automobiles? Retail food stores, restaurants, and other services will follow if they aren't already there. I'm not saying the legislation is perfect, but encouraging the growth of ADUs and renting out rooms hasn't brought relief so far.

Like this comment
Posted by My view
a resident of Atherton: other
on May 2, 2019 at 1:18 pm

Rick clearly misses the point on building near transit stops which is to encourage use of public transportation. It is agreed that the original SB50 bill would change the basic character of many of the communities in the area. However, the rewrte which takes some key aspects of SB4 keeps the majority of the regulations focused on moderate height growth and mostly in larger cities.

This said, we need to recognize we are job rich in this area. Hence there is overloading in this immediate area. Renting of a secondary dwelling will not be the response. There are simply not enough. To generate more development in this area, perhaps there should be a waiver of assessment of the new space for a period of time should the space be used to provide affordable housing.

Finally encouraging schools to follow the initiatives of Google, Facebook and Stanford, to propose building of apartments for their teachers on their property so the schools can attract good young teachers who might otherwise shy away from the area.

Like this comment
Posted by JCH
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 9, 2019 at 1:14 pm

so basically Rick feels that we should give Baby Boomers another tax break?? So low taxes (Prop 13 is great for long term home owners), huge appreciation (Atherton and CA) and now he thinks tax free income property is the solution for wealthy homeowners will solve housing crisis?!? The result is still a young person or couple subsidising an older person's living expenses and taxes while building zero equity for the future. Sounds like a great deal!

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