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SB 478 (Wiener) Housing Standards - SUPPORT

Dear Senator Wiener,

I write on behalf of Mountain View YIMBY to support SB 478, which will establish limits for floor area ratio regulations and minimum lot size regulations, putting guardrails on local governments’ ability to enact hyper-restrictive regulations.

Mountain View YIMBY is a chapter of South Bay YIMBY. We are a group of people who live or work in the city of Mountain View and believe in increasing equitable access to the opportunities offered by this amazing city, and combating global warming through urbanization. We do so by advocating for construction of homes at all income levels, from supportive housing to market rate! We protect Mountain View’s more vulnerable residents by defending Mountain View’s rent control law and advocating for better displacement protection policies. Last but not least, we push for more transit, and bike and pedestrian infrastructure.

Whereas our organization’s main focus is the city of Mountain View, we believe that the housing crisis and climate change require action at a broader scale. That’s why we support SB 478, which we are confident will help advance these causes throughout the state.

Existing housing element law requires local governments to plan and zone for housing through the RHNA process, but also allows them to set regulations on housing that can actually back-door prohibit the production of this housing. These regulations include floor area ratios and minimum lot sizes. This bill proposes to set uniform standards for local governments on these two housing regulations, closing this loophole within current law that does not allow localities to build the amount of housing they have already planned for.

We are enthusiastic about SB 478 because it relaxes the lot size and floor area ratio (FAR) requirements for “missing middle” housing. Although large apartment complexes get more public attention, we believe that buildings of 2–10 units are a very important part of the solution to the housing crisis. They are inexpensive to build and blend easily into existing single-detached neighborhoods. Thus, it is critical to rationalize zoning rules to make it easier to deliver this type of home.

The floor area ratio of a property is the total area of the floor space in a building, potentially over several floors or units, divided by the area of the entire lot. FAR restrictions control how large a building can be, based on the size of the parcel. For example, a lot with a floor area ratio of 1.0 allows a one-story building over the entire lot, a two-story building over half the lot, or a three-story building over a third of the lot. A minimum lot size requirement is a zoning code regulation that specifies the minimum square footage of a lot. This term regulates density and describes the smallest lot that can legally be created within a local jurisdiction. In some areas, lot size minimums can be as large as an acre, or about 43,000 sq. ft. If the minimum lot size is large, people must purchase more land than they need, limiting potential buyers and increasing housing costs. In some communities, the minimum land cost per home can be more than $500,000.

Recent research has found that these design rules can substantially increase the cost of housing when imposed in very restrictive ways. For example, recent research finds that large lot sizes increase the cost of housing and likely exacerbate or cause racial segregation. This confirms previous research on housing regulations, such as FAR, that concludes that extremely tight regulations reduce the supply of housing and increases the cost of housing.

This bill would allow local governments to regulate FAR and minimum lot sizes in the ways they deem most appropriate for their communities, but it adds guardrails against abuse by preventing very restrictive standards that increase housing costs and exacerbate segregation. This bill would not require local governments to allow multifamily housing where they do not already allow it. It also does not change other standards, such as height or setbacks. It just puts important guardrails on design standards so that already-planned homes are not undermined by hyper-restrictive design rules.

It is for these reasons that Mountain View YIMBY is proud to support SB 478 and thanks you for your leadership on this important issue.

Ilya Gurin
Mountain View YIMBY