Commentary: State should avoid interfering with local zoning laws


State Senate Bill 50 roared back last month, only to be defeated almost as quickly as it reared its ugly head. The bill, which was placed on the back burner, was reintroduced in January after having been shot down on multiple occasions.

SB50, which claimed to have addressed the state housing shortage, was a form of bureaucratic overreach that essentially would have stripped local governments’ ability to enact their own zoning laws, consolidating that power in Sacramento.

SB50 would have rendered city and county governments’ power moot and was a condescending form of legislation that essentially deemed local governments statewide as too inept to solve housing shortages in their own communities. While local zoning laws have been a huge hindrance to addressing the housing crisis, centralized planning from Sacramento is not the solution.

In this latest change, SB50 would have given counties and cities two years to develop plans to improve development before state mandates kick in, forcing local governments to comply with their dictates. What are these mandates? To name a few, SB50 would have removed all single-family zoning if the street is within a quarter-mile radius of a bus stop or within a half-mile radius of a rail or train stop.

It would have further wiped out single family zoning if the street was in an area with an “above median income, is jobs rich and has good public schools.” Under SB50, cities would have no power to reject demolitions in areas targeted by SB50, as it would have prevented cities from fighting demolitions in “job-rich, good schools areas” and “transit” areas. The bill further encouraged developers to sue the municipality if challenged.


To highlight the unpopularity of this bill, San Francisco has rejected it on multiple occasions.

While claiming to help renters with the issue of affordable housing, SB50 did the opposite. Studies have shown that the type of zoning policies that SB50 promoted actually increased the cost of living in high-density living areas. According to a 2004 study by the Reason Foundation, “inclusionary” zoning in areas like San Juan Capistrano and Laguna Beach add more than $100,000 to the price of each home.

SB50‘s authors seemed to be of the opinion that in order to solve our housing crisis in California that the rest of the state needs to look and act more like San Francisco and less like Irvine, Escondido or Foster City. This bill would have spelled the beginning of the end for suburban living in California and paved the way for the expansion of homelessness, pollution, congestion and crime that exist in urban cities.

Instead of mandating an urban lifestyle on suburban Californians, as SB50 did, we should allow local governments tend to their own backyards instead of Sacramento bureaucrats. The solution requires less regulation coming from Sacramento on the building of homes as well as a business-friendly environment where cities can work with contractors to build new communities while not upsetting the already existing ones.

SB50 was rightfully rejected and should stay that way.

Michelle Steel is an Orange County supervisor.

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