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State Legislature is Demolishing Local Control of Residential Zoning

Any lingering doubts about the State Legislature and the Metropolitan Transit Commission’s (MTC) intention to eliminate every Marin city’s ability to manage its own residential zoning have been eliminated. Governor Jerry Brown is leading the charge to emasculate local control.

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There are eight legislative proposals in the final stages of being presented to the sympathetic Governor Brown that gut a local community’s control over residential housing. In 2011 Governor Brown eliminated Redevelopment Agencies. Now, he appears ready to eliminate local control of who builds what housing in their community.

Local cities’ elected representatives have been derelict in their duty to publicly report and disseminate information to their constituents of pending legislation at the state level that would potentially have a significant impact upon their citizens’ quality of life and economic well-being. Where is the uproar over the taking away of residents’ historical power to control what is built within their city limits?  Where is the outrage?

The silence of individual City Departments of Development is deafening. Novato’s Community Development Director Bob Brown knows what the implications of proposed legislative changes in State law mean to Novato. Yet, there has been no public discussion or debate that enables the community to become aware of what may happen to it, nor has community opinion been solicited. Mr. Brown is not alone among Marin’s Community Development Directors in their neglect.

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Where is the leadership of Novato Mayor Denise Athas? Does the City of Novato not object to losing control over its residential zoning? Should not each Marin County city council take a formal position for or against these proposed changes? Are Marin’s city councils too timid to confront their State representatives over this huge loss in say over their local areas? Apparently so. It is time to make changes and put in place local representation by those with enough backbone to stand up for their city’s interests early in the legislative process and be counted.

A pontific outburst by MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger at a recent meeting of the MTC’s Committee to House the Bay Area (CASA) removed any doubt regarding the MTC’s preference declaring that “…people who don’t want housing built, especially in their neighborhoods, have too many tools at their disposal to do something about it.”  Heminger has publicly stated that “one way to win the argument is not to convince them, but to take away some of the tools”. These statements reflect the ministerial arrogance of a rogue agency’s unelected Executive Director.


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Simply put, it is the MTC’s and California State Legislature’s intent to strip every California city of its ability to control residential housing built within their city limits. The false premise used by Governor Brown and his coterie of Regional “Transportation” Agencies to justify this power grab is that it is a State “obligation” in the name of “social justice” to meet affordable housing needs as defined by the State of California. Existing local control over zoning laws is viewed as a problem to be obliterated.

This noble “social justice” aspiration is a two-edged sword. One edge may be taxpayer subsidized “affordable housing” becoming more available. The painful other side is that “subsidized” housing to a large extent is paid for by California’s shrinking middle class. This may sound good in church on Sunday, but not so good on Monday when the postal service delivers a larger tax bill. California’s tax weary middle class is beginning to vote with its feet and leave rather than financially struggle to exist as part of a growing lower middle class. Leavers will probably have the advantage of living closer to their children.

Unrestrained multi-unit subsidized housing increases the tax pressure on existing single-family home owners facing the probability of declining property values driven by intrusive increased housing density burdened by insufficient parking requirements, and by the inevitable greater demand for additional costly social services such as police, fire, schools, etc. that new housing brings with it. Public transportation, bike riding and walking is the current urban planners’ uncreative and misguided solution to making this work. Convenient use of a personal auto is many city planners’ arch enemy and to them is to be eliminated, or at least its usage financially punished.

High density developers are typically not required to pay “full freight” for standard construction permits and other infrastructure driven fees. These costs are frequently off-loaded onto existing single-family home owner’s tax bills. High density projects are relieved of sufficient-parking requirements, height restrictions, and are even given several forms of a financially rewarding “density bonus” driving ever greater population density, building heights and traffic congestion.

The California State Legislature is hard at work dismantling any city’s control over its residential zoning and transferring it to the California Department of Housing and Community Development office in Sacramento that is part of the office of the Governor. The new zoning buzzword in Sacramento is “streamlining” – bureaucratic argot for do not let local city zoning and building codes get in the way of what big time developers, regional trade unions and big business wants. The WinCup high density project in Corte Madera is a poster child for Governor Brown’s “affordable housing” aspirations.

Senate Bill 167 by Oakland’s Senator Nancy Skinner dramatically alters the little used Housing Accountability Act (HAA) changing it into a law preventing cities from denying zoning and general-plan-compliant proposed housing development projects, or at least setting conditions tied to their approval based on lower density, unless cities make findings that the proposed housing development would have specific adverse impacts on human health or safety.

Who determines what must be in a city’s General Plan? The Governor’s Office of Planning & Research (OPR) will. Senator Skinner’s SB 167, combined with OPR mandated oppressive affordable housing requirements, places a chokehold on a city’s residential planning efforts to manage growth.

Senate Bill 35 is in the final stages of being approved by the Legislature. Proposed by San Francisco Senator Scott Weiner, it “streamlines” multi-family housing- project approvals by eliminating public input, prohibiting the requirement for compliance with California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and removing local discretion.

Yes, you read that correctly. State Senator Weiner advocates throwing CEQA under the bus in the name of affordable taxpayer subsidized housing, and incredibly, eliminating public input which is the foundation of relevant local government.

You can bid farewell to your local control of residential zoning. Who allowed this to happen? With a few notable exceptions such as Novato’s citizen-friendly Pat Eklund, your City Councilmembers representatives on regional agencies boards did by doing nothing. They sat silent as their city’s “elected representative” on regional agency Boards like grade school children waiting to be served dessert. They quietly witnessed, without a whimper of resistance, local control over what would be built in their community being eliminated by the Legislature and transferred to a single office of bureaucrats in Sacramento. Like a feudal lord’s fiefdom, the Governor in Sacramento and his “ministers” in the OPR will dictate local residential zoning codes.

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Incumbent local politicians will run for cover by hiding behind the weak excuse “it was handled at the State level”. The local City Council and County representatives put up no public resistance. They make surrender monkeys look noble.

How to right this disaster? The only effective way is at the ballot box in the next election. If an incumbent did not publicly resist this State power grab, you can throw the bum out of office. They threw you and your neighborhood under the bus. Now it’s your turn to stand up and be counted by throwing them out of office.



Author: Hutch Turner - Novato

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