Special-Interest Groups Negatively Impacting Single-Family Neighborhoods and Affordable Housing

By Sharon Byrne   |   April 29, 2021

We attended the Senate Housing Committee last week to provide input on two key bills: Senate Bills 9 and 765. 

Our unexpected gain: insight into who’s calling the shots at the state.

Hint: it’s not you. 

Senator Toni Atkins (San Diego) introduced the revised SB-9. It will allow four units on a single-family lot, newly split for eight units total, where a home once stood. She touted it as giving homeowners options to rent to families and provide for “missing middle” income housing. It will not apply to high wildfire zones, like Montecito, as Senator Monique Limón’s team just confirmed, at former Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson’surging. 

The American Planning Association spoke in support and in favor of ending single-family zoning. Chair Scott Wiener (San Francisco) asked for public comment, with multiple YIMBY groups speaking in support: California YIMBY, Ventura County YIMBY, San Francisco YIMBY, South Bay YIMBY, Santa Cruz YIMBY, and Peninsula for Everyone. 

What’s YIMBY? You may have read the letter in last week’s Montecito Journal from a member of California YIMBY. YIMBY stands for “Yes, In My Back Yard,” a witty counter to NIMBY, the “Not In My Back Yard” folks that typically don’t like things like homeless shelters near them. 

Interestingly, YIMBYs are not California homeowners offering up their backyards for housing. They’re housing activists that hope by spurring a lot of development, they’ll be able to afford, well, something. They’re really “Yes! Let’s build more housing… in YOUR backyard. So people like us can live there!” YIMBYs shout down groups advocating for affordable housing for low-income and diverse communities. It’s been said of YIMBY groups that they have a privilege problem.

Why? YIMBYs are supremely well-funded by — wait for it — big tech companies. 

Big tech certainly had (pre-pandemic) major incentives to get a lot of housing built for their workers but feel unfairly stymied by slow-moving local governments and NIMBYs. 

Stripe, the electronic payment processor, gave $1 million to California YIMBY in 2018. Other prominent donors include Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, and Jeremy Stoppelman, CEO of Yelp. YIMBY Action is a 501c4 with $500,000 in assets. It endorses candidates and files lawsuits against Bay Area cities that reject zoning-compliant housing projects. California YIMBY has raised $3 million, and given generously to campaigns, like Senator Wiener’s 2020 race. They have six regional organizing directors, 21 full-time staff, and an in-house lobbyist.

That could explain the loving praise showered on SB 9 by YIMBY groups, and the opposition from cities such as Laguna Beach, Santa Monica, Brentwood, Beverly Hills, Mission Viejo, Pleasanton, Palo Alto, Cupertino, Danville — and the Montecito Association. 

Senator Pat Bates (Orange County) pushed back on parking. There would be four spaces for four units, unless close to a transit center. Municipalities unfortunately get to deal with parking issues, not the State. With too few spaces, parking moves on-street, a problem in Santa Barbara and parts of Montecito. 

Much Ado About SB-765

Senate Bill 765 provoked a huge fight, surprisingly. If you read our story on the two-story ADU (accessory dwelling unit) construction project jamming up against unfortunate neighbors on Hill Road, the case for allowing local jurisdictions to implement a setback of more than four feet (the current state law), SB-765 provides welcome relief, albeit too late for the Hill Road neighbors. 

This bill prevents “spite ADUs,” where an owner sites the ADU up against their neighbor. We already have a problem with this, with 47 of the 162 permitted ADUs in the county in Montecito. Senator Henry Stern intends SB-765 to be a fix, with language indicating the setbacks cannot be determined by a local jurisdiction in such a way that would make it impossible to build them. 

Wiener stated SB-765 was not going to be voted on at that moment but would be a two-year bill (a likely slow death maneuver). The ADU law was intended by Senate Housing Leadership to provide housing, while not meaningfully impacting the look and feel of neighborhoods (a total fail with the Hill Road project). The four-foot setbacks were mandated by the State to force local jurisdictions to permit them. 

Again, multiple YIMBY groups opposed this bill, while several communities, including ours, supported it. Stern respectfully agreed to have a conversation about making this a large-lot bill and inserting language that protected the state ADU law, to prevent the bill dying right on the floor.

The California Building Trades Association weighed in on this bill, in support. Like YIMBY organizations, it plays a strong role in state housing legislation. The Wall Street Journal recently wrote an article on this, with “The Trades” representing 450,000 ironworkers, pipefitters and construction trade unions. The association contributes tens of millions of dollars to political candidates, including the Santa Barbara City Council and Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors. 

Mayor Cathy Murillo is heavily funded by “The Trades,” and endorsing local groups, like the Democratic Women of Santa Barbara County, have noticed. “The Trades” act as a gatekeeper on legislation to provide its members with well-paying jobs. Its provisions are written into bills to get support. But housing advocates want the ability to forgo some “Trades” provisions when developers don’t get bids that fulfill union requirements, or when the bids they get are too high to make affordable housing buildable. 

In 2020, “The Trades” killed bills that would have made it easier for religious institutions and nonprofit hospitals to build affordable housing on lots they own; loosen restrictions on cities to allow more multi-unit housing; and streamline the process of converting vacant hotels and motels to affordable housing. Its argument is that jobs need to pay well to avoid driving construction workers into poverty. 

Interestingly, it is directly opposing creative opportunities to end homelessness.

California’s goal is a minimum of 1.5 million units of new housing for low-income families, based on a 2018 report by the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development (forwarded by excellent Montecito Transportation Committee member Jack Overall). That’s the same department that killed a bill in 2020 by our then state senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, a bill that would prevent building in high wildfire zones, like Montecito, right before the governor was to sign it. SB55, a resurrection of her bill, by Senator Stern, is also facing certain death from these same forces. 

Summing up: it’s perfectly OK for YIMBYs and “The Trades” to destroy single-family residential communities, and jam people into high wildfire zones, where they could die, but it’s not OK to provide affordable housing — the real need. 

Homelessness Continues to Grow

These powerful forces work to shape housing legislation, and you can see how hard it us for a community like ours to mount an effective voice. That’s why we’ve banded with several communities to raise a loud collective voice and hired our former state senator, Hannah-Beth Jackson, to guide us through this process.  

Have you seen the explosion of homelessness from north of Goleta to Carpinteria? Our community is actively working to help move those experiencing homelessness in Montecito indoors, yet the State is not offering anything truly meaningful to resolve this issue. Los Angeles just announced $1 billion to address homelessness. They’ve reviewed the State legislation, and are taking matters into their own hands, as have we.

Two individuals that we housed recently offered a poignant lesson: They lost their housing, and there was literally nothing to rent. To the car and beach they went. We obtained rooms in houses to end homelessness for them. Our community is actively involved in outreach and trying to place individuals, so I will now turn to YIMBYs that shout down affordable housing advocates and make this offer: We welcome you to volunteer to help us on outreach and placement for those experiencing homelessness. 

Maybe then you’ll see the true landscape we’re all standing on.

This is a new frontier for Montecito. You have a clear picture of what we’re up against.

It takes a village to raise its voice, and we are stepping up in ways we never have before. 

We need YOU! To get involved, go to montecitoassociation.org/advocacy or email execdirector@montecitoassociation.org.


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