SB-827 height overlay map

“Transit rich” housing. Sounds good, right? Is this what you expected?

State Senator Scott Weiner (D-11th District), the author of last year’s “By-right Housing” law, (SB-35), has a pair of new “go-big” proposals. Designed to incentivize construction of dense, multi-family housing near transit, SB-827 would “up zone” all parcels, statewide, within 1/2 mile of a major transit stop or within 1/4 mile of a high quality transit corridor. Residential development projects in those “transit rich” areas would receive a “transit-rich housing bonus” exempting them from local rules regarding density, parking, floor area limits and design standards. Height limits would be set between 45 feet and 85 feet, depending on location. SB-827 does not specify any affordability requirements or minimum residential component.

Following on the heels of new State penalties for failure to meet regional housing allocations (RHNA), Senator Weiner’s second proposal, SB-828, would effectively double the RHNA requirements for all local jurisdictions, requiring that they “plan and accommodate for 200 percent of the local housing allocation for every income category in its housing element.”

So what would SB-827 mean for Palo Alto? More than a third of the city’s built environment would be eligible for conversion to dense “housing developments” up to as much as 85 feet high: approximately 6,000 parcels (out of 18,050 total parcels in the city), including 3,694 parcels currently zoned for single family homes and 1,416 zoned for multi-family residential (which currently have height limits of 30 to 40 feet). As written, SB-827 appears to apply across all zoning categories.

Click the image below for a story map with multiple tabs analyzing the impacts of SB-827 on Palo Alto (created by AnimaDesigncourtesy of the Embarcadero Institute, 501(c)3).

The zoomable map shows the new maximum building heights in the areas impacted by the Weiner proposal. Yellow = maximum height of 45 feet, Orange = maximum height of 55 feet, and Red = maximum height of 85 feet. If the project is eligible for another state “density bonus,” heights could go up to 105 feet. On site parking, area wide, will be left entirely to the discretion of the developer.

What do 55 foot and 85 foot buildings look like?

It is widely agreed that passage of SB-827 would substantially curtail the decision-making powers of local government, but community advocates are lining up both for and against the bill. Many avid housing proponents see less local control as a good thing, but it does raise some thorny questions.

Will it disrupt carefully crafted area plans, such as SOFA I/II and the soon to kick off North Ventura Coordinated Area Plan or the local balance and distribution of schools, parks and other community facilities? How will it impact the local economy when all commercial uses within the transit-rich area have to compete with more highly entitled housing developments (akin to government incentives for office growth in recent years)? Will they have to move farther from transit? Will it promote displacement of low and moderate income residents from older, more affordable housing stock? What happens if transit routes change? Will it deter the creation of new transit routes? What will be the likely service demands and fiscal impacts on the City?

The City of Palo Alto announced its opposition to the bill in a letter signed by Mayor Kniss on February 13. The League of California Cities also opposes SB-827. On the other side of the debate, in an unusual departure from Mayor Kniss, Councilmember Adrian Fine plans to actively support the bill. The California YIMBY Tech Network recently gathered signatures from 130 tech leaders on a letter of support.

Whether SB-827 will move out of committee and forward to passage is still an open question. Let your local representatives know what you think about the bill: City Council, County Supervisor Joe Simitian, State Assemblymember Marc Berman, and State Senator Jerry Hill.

Assemblymember Berman will hold a community open house on February 22 from 4:00-6:00 pm at his District Office in Los Altos, and will join Menlo Park Mayor, Peter Ohtaki for a community coffee on February 26, 8:00-9:30 am in Menlo Park.


  1. I oppose SB-827 for a number of reasons. First, it takes away local control. As the Chairman of the Design Review Commission in Los Altos, I have developed a keen understanding of the implications of zoning laws. SB-827 robs cities and counties of even basic zoning control. Further, it will inextricably alter the character of numerous neighborhoods and cities as a whole, but not with good results. Having done my graduate work at Stanford, I enjoyed Palo Alto’s chararcter and would hate to see the neighborhoods loose their identities. As a candidate for Assembly District 24, I strongly oppose it for the damage that it will do at the District and State level. There are other ways to solve the problems. In opposition to SB-827, I reposted the article link on my website. SB-827 turns neighborhoods into “development bonanzas.”

    Alex Glew, Ph.D.
    Candidate for Assembly District 24

  2. Business and political leaders in the states of Texas, Washington, Oregon, Colorado and Arizona fully agree with Senator Wiener and the YIMBYs/WINMBYs that California has way too many attractive single family neighborhoods populated by often very prosperous persons/families–and these states with Texas in particular are very motivated to assume the burden of relocating and housing these same people and all of their economic resources! (I can even imagine throngs of various promoters/boosters going door-to-door selling the California exit option in the face of pending legislation like SB827!)

    Regardless of highly visible “Silicon Valley” support for SB827 and similar state-level efforts and laws to force densification on California single family zones–such laws may begin the GREAT EXODUS of major corporations, private-family business, wealthy and middle class households out of the state. Any economic decline in California will negatively impact support for and progress on green space development and ambitious environmental goals in both California and the nation as a whole!

    Very high tax and regulatory burdens (many I personally support!) so far have not led to such an economic and social decline–but forced densification bills like SB827 will negatively impact venture capitalists, college professors, CEOs, business owners and countless others literally where they choose to live with their families.

    Countless times I have been told by people — both conservative and liberal — that but for the love of their home, neighborhood and community they/their resources would leave the state due to its “challenges.” Now, the prospect of block-busting state laws removes their ability to literally govern their own neighborhoods/communities. (Also, destroys incentives to maintain/improve single family housing stock in communities subject to forced densification.)

    State-level central control forced densification laws like SB827 will sever/break this last binding attachment to long term residency in the State among an irreplaceable critical mass wealth and economic resources–first a trickle then mass exodus and economic decline from a “self-inflicted wound” imposed on the people by arrogant state leadership.

    Once the negative consequences (or “BLESSINGS” from a Texan perspective) are realized and set in motion they will be very very hard to reverse.

    Perhaps a voter-rebellion led anti-densification initiative(s) could save the state from the damage of these proposed laws! Otherwise with the exodus/decline the debate shifts to which states–including Texas, Washington, Oregon and Colorado–will benefit most from the Great State of California’s stumble.

    What high tax burdens and regulations failed to wreck and disassemble–overreach in the form of forced densification laws may ultimately set in motion (and the Texans cheer!).

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