More revisions and clarity in California’s landmark TOD bill


The San Francisco Ferry Building. Areas around ferry ports will be rezoned under a proposed law in California. (Image: Dllu, Wikimedia)

Over the last two years, California State Senator Scott Wiener has submitted proposals for sweeping legislation that, if adopted, would change how development happens near transit throughout California by allowing greater height and density among other provisions.

SB827 was the first attempt to make change in late 2017 though it ultimately failed to get out of committee. In late 2018 during a new legislative session, SB50 was created out of the ashes of SB827. The resurrected bill includes language to prevent displacement and was broadened to cover “jobs rich areas” that aren’t necessarily near transit.

Now after discussing issues with constituents and people around the state, more changes have been made to SB50 in hopes of getting the legislation passed in this session. The changes include the addition of ferries to the transit areas available for upzoning, protections for mobile homes, and an affordable housing requirement based on project size.

The most interesting change however comes from the definition of “jobs rich areas,” which SB50 would also upzone. The bill states that a “job rich area” is where “the tract is higher opportunity and its characteristics are associated with positive educational and economic outcomes for households of all income levels residing in the tract.” (California Legislature, Section 2(e)(1)) This includes areas where job density and total jobs are high. The California Department of Housing and Urban Development would be required by this bill to create maps of job rich areas that are updated every five years.

By increasing the number of homes near frequent transit and job centers, the bill seeks to reduce commute times and distances and make active transportation a more attractive option.

We know from the literature that employment is a major driver of transit ridership. In the library TCRP 167: Making Effective Fixed-Guideway Transit Investments states, “researchers found that employment and population near stations, the cost of parking in the central business district (CBD), and grade separation were highly influential [on ridership]—more so than many other measures.” TOD 202: Transit and Employment from the Federal Transit Administration also discusses this important nexus but goes beyond housing to all facets of development near transit.

What’s new on the pod?

About 3 weeks ago San Diego officially eliminated minimum parking requirements in “transit priority areas.” It’s just the latest in a string of policy changes that San Diego is pursuing to promote more transit-oriented development as we hear on this month’s episode of Building Better Communities with Transit. Colin Parent from Circulate San Diego talks about why changes are happening now and what elected officials in the region are saying and doing to expand development around transit. Catch the episode on SoundcloudStitcheriTunesOvercast, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Recent TOD news

Here are a few things that have been happening this week with TOD projects across the country.

  • Huge oversupply of parking in new Vancouver BC housing developments, especially near transit (The Hive)
  • Denver light rail effects various development submarkets differently (Colorado Real Estate Journal)
  • A 34-acre rail yard development plan gets pushback from Chicago Alderman (Curbed Chicago)
  • Caltrain charts the future for agency’s land (San Mateo Daily Journal)
  • Seattle upzones 27 neighborhood hubs, passes affordable-housing requirements (Seattle Times)