State Senator Skinner targets Berkeley's zoning laws

Becky O'Malley
Friday March 24, 2017 - 03:41:00 PM

Let’s see what San Francisco BARF is up to these days, always a fun find.

For those of you who are new to this discussion, BARF (what an apt acronym!) is the San Francisco Bay Area Renters’ Federation, a developer-funded lobbying front whose motto seems to be “Build anything you want for anyone anywhere, as long as it makes money for someone, preferably our donors.”

What started as BARF has lately become a hydra-headed monster, now with an umbrella ID (or at least a web page) as the YIMBY Party. For you newbies, that’s a none-too-clever play on NIMBY, Not In My Backyard, the acronym coined by the families fighting toxic waste from Love Canal.

Evidently YIMBYs are those who welcome any toxics which happen to be on offer. Seems odd, but some people will swallow anything if the money’s right. Even if it make them BARF.

The YIMBY Party site lists a total of five “member orgs”, including one called “East Bay Forward”, but no names of members or officers that I could find in 2 minutes. My count of BARFish commenters both online and at civic meetings comes to no more than 15 actual individuals frantically running from meeting to meeting and website to website purporting to represent all five groups.

The news item here is that Berkeley’s own State Senator, Nancy Skinner, is now carrying water for YIMBY/BARF, if we’re to believe what’s tweeted by one Brian Hanlon, an ill-mannered oaf who once sat in front of me at a Berkeley ZAB hearing. I know what he’s up to because Brian’s a Twitthead who rivals The Trump himself. 


Some tweets from Brian Hanlon‏ @hanlonbt : 

Mar 17: Thank you @NancySkinnerCA and @AsmBocanegra for being housing heroes!  

And why should our state senator be a hero to a BARFer? More of Brian’s tweets: 

“YIMBYs - Read our bill to make the HAA enforceable & penalize scofflaw cities that maintain the housing shortage!”  

Also, SB 167 stops cities from imposing unreasonable fees that would kill housing development & ups the evidentiary standard for denying housing.” 

And there’s a lot more in the same vein. What’s he talking about, anyway? 

SB 167 contains Senator Nancy Skinner’s proposed amendments to the Housing Accountability Act (which was originally supposed to facilitate affordable housing construction). If you read the whole bill, and I have, the short answer is that if the legislature passes it, anything goes, if you just remember to call it “housing”. 

Instead of promoting housing for low-income families, Skinner’s bill would give developers what amounts to a blank check to override local planning and zoning laws, even for high-priced projects. 

Here’s a quick off-the-record comment from an experienced progressive environmental attorney on the effect of Skinner’s proposed changes: 

“Suffice it to say that, with the addition of the “above moderate income” housing - this bill becomes a tool for market rate housing developers to demand whatever they want and force a city to give it to them…The difference between “substantial evidence” and “clear and convincing evidence” is the difference between “defendant city wins nine time out of ten” and “plaintiff housing developer wins nine times out of ten.” 

Is this what Berkeleyans want from their state senator? Somehow I doubt it. We just elected a whole new city council comprised of proponents of low-income housing who are also opponents of unbridled luxury development. 

Senator Skinner is the trailing edge of the developer-funded Bates “build, build, build” machine which has held sway here for years. Now, Berkeley voters are catching on to what’s happening.  

We hope to publish a more detailed analysis of exactly how the Skinner bill would affect local governments like Berkeley’s in the near future. Does Skinner really want to penalize Berkeley? 

Meanwhile, the Chicken Little sky-is-falling narrative of the developers’ shills is being reversed. It turns out that population growth is slowing down in the Bay Area. Making it even easier to cram in more “above moderate income” projects into already dense cities is not the solution to our very real housing problems. 

What’s needed in cities like Berkeley is more homes for people at the low end of the pay scale, coupled with better pay, so that workers like teachers, firefighters and UC Berkeley service employees don’t need to commute such long distances to find housing. What’s not needed is more luxury condos in hyper-urban areas like those under construction in downtown Berkeley. 

Evidently Nancy Skinner missed that memo. If you’d like to tell her that you don’t want Berkeley’s planning pre-empted by state law, here’s her contact information: 

Capitol Office
State Capitol, Room 2059
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 651-4009
Fax: (916) 327-1997 

District Office
1515 Clay Street
Suite 2202
Oakland, CA 94612
Phone: (510) 286-1333
Fax: (510) 286-3885 

Oddly, she doesn’t publish her email address, though there’s a form you can fill out on her website: http://sd09.senate.ca.gov/contact