A report issued last week by the Department of City Planning details how changes to the pending legislation SB 50 could impact Los Angeles.

The bill, which is sponsored by San Francisco Senator Scott Wiener, would permit the construction of four- and five-story apartment buildings near transit corridors and job centers, even when local zoning rules do not permit such developments.  As previously written, SB 50 would have impacted approximately 43 percent of the developable parcels in the City of Los Angeles.

However, at a committee hearing on April 24, Wiener announced amendments to his legislation as the result of a compromise with Senator Mike McGuire, sponsor of the competing bill SB 4.  The changes to SB 50, which were officially unveiled on May 1, include more stringent eligibility requirements and clarifications to how the bill would interact with existing zoning regulations.  According to the Planning Department, approximately 21 percent of the developable land in the City of Los Angeles would now be eligible for the bill's incentives - less than half the amount prior to the amendments.

As now written, SB 50 incentives would be limited to bus stops with service every 10 minutes during peak hours, down from the 15-minute service levels required in the earlier iteration.  Additionally, parcels located within designated fire hazard zones, parcels located in non infill areas of coastal zones, and contributing parcels in Historic Preservation Overlay Zones established prior to December 31, 2010 would be excluded from receiving incentives.

The City of Los Angeles currently has 35 Historic Preservation Overlay Zones, of which nine were established after 2010.  They include:

  • Hollywood Grove (2011);
  • Jefferson Park (2011);
  • 52nd Place Tifal Brother Tract (2015);
  • Vinegar Hill expansion area (2015);
  • El Sereno-Berkshire (2017);
  • Sunset Square (2017);
  • Oxford Square (2017);
  • Miracle Mile (2017); and
  • Carthay Square (2017).

The latter two HPOZs are notable in that they surround the Metro subway stations at Wilshire/La Brea and Wilshire/Fairfax.  The Planning Department is currently drafting new land use regulations for the areas surrounding the subway extension, the first phase of which is anticipated to open in 2023.  However, much of the Mid-Wilshire area is excluded from zone changes due to the recently-established historic districts.

Non-contributing properties in older HPOZs are not excluded from receiving incentives, nor are properties that have been designated a Historic-Cultural Monument, or are listed in state and national register historic districts.  The Planning Department estimates that 28 percent of existing Historic-Cultural Monuments in the City of Los Angeles could be eligible for redevelopment with SB 50 incentives.

Additionally, the more restrictive definition of high-quality bus would eliminate 26 bus lines that were eligible prior to the amendments.


Perhaps the most substantial change to SB 50 a new provision which would allow two-to-four-unit developments across the state on a by-right basis - an item that was adopted from McGuire's legislation, SB 4.  To qualify for this incentive, a project must either be located on vacant land, or it must consist of the conversion of an existing structure without requiring substantial exterior alterations.  Existing single-family homes could not be demolished for a duplex, triplex, or fourplex unless the underlying was already zoned for such use.

Additional restrictions regarding coastal zones, fire hazard zones, floodplains, earthquake zones, and conservation areas would remain applicable.  Additionally, a project would be ineligible for incentives should it require the demolition of covenanted affordable units, units subject to the rent stabilization ordinance, and any housing that has been occupied by tenants within the past 10 years.  Properties that have been designated as a historic structure on a national, state, or local register are similarly excluded.

Project using this incentive would be required to abide by other zoning and design review standards, with the exception of an amended parking requirement of .5 spaces per residential units.

The Planning Department describes the fourplex revision as "likely the most significant amendment made to SB 50," expanding its coverage to all areas of the city where residential uses are permitted, but has the potential to shift development patterns away from transit corridors into lower-density neighborhoods.  Single-family zoned properties compose nearly half of the city's buildable land.


The amendments to SB 50 also clarify its affordability requirements and its impacts on designated sensitive communities.  The bill has been subject to criticism from housing and equity organizations regarding a provision which would allow developers to pay an in-lieu fee rather than constructing on-site affordable units.  In response to those concerns, the language of SB 50 has been refined to specify that an in-lieu payment must either consist of a dedication of land or a direct fee payment to a developer of affordable housing.  An off-site location must be within a half-mile of the original project, and no certificate of occupancy could be issued for the SB 50 project until a building permit has been issued for the off-site affordable units.

SB 50, informed by the failure of its predecessor SB 827, includes a provision which allows for delayed implementation in designated sensitive communities.  The amendments to the bill have begun to define "sensitive communities," laying out the following criteria: 

  • Areas designated "high segregation and poverty" or "low resource" on the 2019 Opportunity Maps created by the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee;
  • All census tracts in the top 25 scoring census tracts from the CalEnviroScreen 3.0 tool;
  • All qualified census tracts identified by the Department of Housing and Urban Development for 2019; and
  • Other areas identified by Councils of Government, including areas experiencing rapid changes in housing cost.

In the Greater Los Angeles area, the Southern California Association of Governments is required lead the process by which sensitive communities will be identified and mapped.  In the designated sensitive communities, SB 50 would not apply until January 1, 2026 unless 1) a minimum of 20 percent of residents in the area sign a petition to enact the law's incentives or 2) a community plan is adopted with the aim of increasing residential density and housing near transit that does not conflict with the spirit of SB 50.

Finally, the amendments to SB 50 clarify how the legislation would interact with the existing SB 1818 density bonus law.  Eligibility for SB 50 equitable communities incentives is restricted to parcels on which five base units are allowed, thus excluding single-family and duplex-zoned sites.  Additionally, requests for additional incentives through SB 50 will require higher affordability levels than in the state density bonus law.  A request for three incentives in SB 50 will require providing at least 15 percent of units to very low-income households or 30 percent of units to low- or moderate-income households.

Wiener's legislation has currently passed through two committee hearings, and more revisions are anticipated.  Though controversial, the bill has recently garnered the endorsements of both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.