California State Senator wants to remake cities with midrises near public transit, but he is facing a wave of nimbyism

Scott Wiener is California State Senator for San Francisco, whose SB827, co-sponsored by State Senator Nancy Skinner, will move some zoning responsibility from cities to the state, forcing cities to allow the construction of higher-density housing (duplexes, eight-plexes and midrise, six-story apartment buildings) near public transit stops.

California is in the grips of a terrible housing crisis, with rents and house-prices consuming an ever-greater percentage of Californians' income and more people arriving with few new housing starts to shelter them.

The measure has proved disappointingly unpopular: Berkeley's mayor called it "a declaration of war against our neighborhoods;" Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz warned that it would make Westside "look like Dubai." Critics accuse Wiener of being a "real estate industry puppet."

Wiener also sponsored legislation to permit bars to close a 4AM ("great cities have great nightlife") and California's Net Neutrality bill.

California nimbyism is a form of intergenerational warfare, the terminal phase of treating housing like an asset, rather than a human necessity. Californians who were lucky enough to buy property near transit back when average working families could afford homes are looking around at the shrinking social safety net and the elimination of defined-benefits pensions and deciding that their homes are the only thing standing between them and an old-age in a charity hospital, their kids' only chance of going to college, their grandkids' only chance at a down-payment for a house. So they're resisting anything that threatens their housing valuation, even when that threat is remote and improbable (higher density zoning around your home makes the underlying land more valuable, not less).

And now he's saying that within walking distance of mass transit, housing shouldn't be single-family, suburban style. It should be tall, like 45 feet or up to 65, depending on how wide the street is.

The goal, Wiener says, isn't Hong Kong–style high-rises. It's what housing advocates call the "missing middle," things like side-by-side duplexes, eight-unit apartment buildings, six-story buildings—a building form even San Francisco built plenty of in the early 20th century. Typically these are wood-frame construction, cheaper to build than luxury steel-and-glass high-rises.

My Transit Density Bill (SB 827): Answering Common Questions and Debunking Misinformation [Scott Wiener/Extra News Feed]

A Bid to Solve California's Housing Crisis Could Redraw How Cities Grow [Adam Rogers/Wired]