Urban Institute Panel analyzes California law on denser city development

A California law that encourages home building that is both compact and close to public transit has the potential to help the state accommodate future growth in ways that are economically and environmentally sound, a report by the Urban Land Institute says.

General plans that encourage redevelopment within a city’s core and squeeze more residences onto smaller lots are an important component of Senate Bill 375, which was enacted in 2008 to help the state meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals, according to the report released earlier this month. The institute is a nonprofit education and research group made up of 30,000 planners, architects, developers and scholars.

Such development — when located near buses, trains and subways — will go a long way toward providing for the 2 million additional homes needed to accommodate the state’s anticipated population growth over the next two decades. So-called smart growth will also entitle cities to a greater share of transportation dollars to build public transit options, said the 20-page report titled “SB 375 Impact Analysis Report.”

Builders are often reluctant to take on this “infill” development because of higher costs and regulatory hoops. But it makes more sense in the long run to construct homes in areas already served by city services such as sewer and water than to sprawl into undeveloped land, the report found.


“A lot of what is known as suburban sprawl is actually a net drain on public resources,” said Daniel Kingsley, managing partner of SKS Investments in San Francisco, a commercial real estate firm. “There’s hope that more compact development could represent a more cost-effective way to provide scarce public resources.”

Kingsley, co-chairman of the Urban Land Institute Panel that analyzed SB 375, said the law doesn’t preclude construction of single-family homes on large lots. But it does encourage cities to consider a better mix of housing options.

“Urban infill can’t accommodate all of the growth that is coming to California,” he said.