OPINION: Novato City Council Missed the Mark on SB-330
Dany Jarjoura | NextGen Marin
Senate Bill 330 is making its way through California, nearing Gavin Newsom’s office. The bill, introduced by Senator Nancy Skinner and also known as the Housing Crisis Act of 2019, looks to speed up the process of constructing housing by prohibiting cities with high rents and low vacancy rates from hindering the approval process for housing developments.
The Bill would prohibit these cities from placing moratoriums on development as well as putting caps on the number of discretionary housing permits. Additionally, these cities would be prevented from instituting new zoning laws that would requiring less dense housing. The Bill would also prohibit some cities from enforcing certain parking requirements.
The Novato City Council met June 11th to discuss changes coming to Novato as well as hear comments from the public. The City Council pushed the Mayor to sign a letter of opposition to SB 330, citing that the less strict parking requirements would “force residents to compete for an ever-diminishing supply of parking.”
While this has the potential to be a minor inconvenience, in my personal opinion it’s not a significant enough problem to warrant rejecting SB-330 wholesale.
I personally attended the City Council meeting and witnessed many people, mothers, and fathers, who all work for the City of Novato and are unable to live in the place they work. These individuals pleaded with the council to raise their pay in order for them to be able to live in the city they serve.
The Council should understand that by opposing SB 330, they are contributing to preventing families from living near the place that they work on behalf of something as menial as street parking.
The second problem that the City Council has with SB 330 is that it would create a “new type of housing project permit … which contains too little information for a city to determine the scope of the project … new limits on the number of public hearings and streamline approval timeline begins.”
This criticism by the council illustrates exactly why the Bill is needed. The effect of the City Council’s public hearings most of the time serves to slow down progress on project development, increasing the cost to the developer which then must be offset by higher rents.
This reality is often understandably overlooked; the purpose of City Council meetings is to make sure development is as beneficial as possible for Novato residents, not to reduce the developer’s cost.
However, the reality is that the longer a development is delayed by design review and other forms of local control, the higher the rent will be in the end, as the company must recoup its losses from the delay in the form of increased living costs.
The irony is that we got into the mess we’re currently in due to overzealous local control delaying and sometimes outright rejecting much-needed housing. Now, the same local control is blocking the Bill designed to solve this problem.
The City Council also has an issue with how SB 330 freezes fees associated with building. However, let me raise a question to the City Council: isn’t that the entire point of the bill?
One major reason there has been next to no housing built in Novato for years now is because of the fees paired with costs from delays that make it too risky to build anything, leaving businesses with a negative perception about developing in Novato and Marin as a whole. Novato desperately needs homes in order for future generations to live here affordably, and this Bill is proposing changes that would at least address this problem.
So why is the City Council so quick to oppose this bill? It is worth noting that the mayor signing this letter of opposition would “not directly further the Strategic Plan’s Goals and Objectives" despite the fact that Objective 5 of their strategic plan is to “Increase Housing.” SB-330 looks to increase housing and, in turn, help Novato fulfill their own goals. Yet, the City Council is opposing this Bill.