June 10, 2021 / SB 478 is designated by Livable California as one of the 7 Bad Bills of 2021. Here’s what it does:

SB 478 lets developers destroy affordable older housing to build 14 luxury apartment units on a typical 5,000 sq. ft. lot. Largely written for tech workers seeking high-end studio and one-bedroom units, this law is not justifiable, or wise, for statewide use.

Understandably, the senate did not have time to understand the outcomes of SB 478 when it passed this bill a few weeks ago. We urge the California state Assembly to take a closer look and then kill SB 478, by state Sen. Scott Wiener, which negatively impacts potentially thousands of families living in affordable apartments, the last thing we need in our post-COVID recovery.

Call and meet with your Assembly member NOW and urge them to kill SB 478 for these reasons:

  • A developer can build 14 units — 10 units plus 2 ADUs and 2 JADUs (known as granny flats) — on any multifamily street zoned for triplexes or greater density, or in any mixed-use district. Cities would be banned from imposing any local standard, such as a yard, that precludes a density of 1.25 FAR. Note that the bill does not speak to how many units are allowed but instead utilizes the mathematical formula “Floor Area Ratio.” But in real terms, it means allowing a two-story, 6,250 sq. ft. apartment building on a 5,000 sq. ft. lot. (That’s 5,000 sq. feet of land x 1.25 = 6,250 sq feet of housing.)
  • SB 478 was written for Bay Area techies earning average salaries of $90,0000 to $145,000 a year. It will not work for most households in the 482 cities in California.
  • L.A.’s “small lot subdivision” law is a cautionary example. (See photo above, of new $1M homes behind a locked gate on the hill behind old Echo Park bungalows.) L.A. city leaders said these “small lot” condo projects would lower housing prices. But L.A.’s small lot subdivision law has instead spurred destruction of affordable housing to produce $1M to $2M condos — often separated by just 4 inches of air space. SB 478 is a cousin to L.A.’s law.
  • SB 478 allows developers to pave over thousands of yards. The bill’s author has called yards immoral. We strongly disagree. Residents’ yards, gardens and trees comprise most of the Urban Tree Canopy, capturing greenhouse gases and reducing our deadly heat islands. This has not been thought out.
  • The author strongly implies that SB 478 delivers “missing middle” density, meaning small-sized apartment buildings, not too big, and not to little, but in the “middle. The state has wrongly declared such projects are “naturally” affordable. This is pure fantasy. “Missing middle” density has failed in early adopter cities Seattle, Toronto and Vancouver, where prices went the wrong way. Rents in 14-unit buildings are no cheaper than in 80-unit buildings.
  • SB 478 applies to all “urbanized areas” and “urban clusters,” which sweeps in even small cities such as San Fernando, Half Moon Bay, Paradise, Hollister and Big Bear City.