California State Senator Scott Wiener and I communicated with one another several times during his campaign to push SB 827 through the legislature, and I warned very early on during our exchanges that the singlemindedness that gave him the courage and conviction to introduce and champion such disruptive legislation would be the very undoing of its hopes for success.
I do not delight in being proven right in this case, because the intent behind this bill was and remains laudable. Urban zones, especially in California, are in desperate need of increased housing inventory. That said, the housing most needed in many of our cities is not luxury condominiums or lofty apartments for the well-heeled. What is sorely lacking in major municipalities is thoughtfully centralized housing for the people who keep our cities alive: the teachers, city workers, restaurant and store staff, and other citizens presently struggling through daily commutes to work in places where they cannot presently imagine ever being able to live. A healthy community caters to its best and most conscientious citizens, irrespective of their income, net worth, gender, color, or creed. Our cities have lost sight of this dictum. Another element in ensuring the health and well-being of our urban societies is protecting the best core differentiating characteristics of each of these communities. Senator Wiener’s bill did not satisfy its critics on either count. Desperate circumstances do NOT always call for desperate measures.
Senator Wiener made it very clear to me how disdainful he was of early critiques, and his dismissive answers to polite questions in numerous online forums repeatedly undermined his chances at developing transversal support. It was only after a groundswell of opposition presented itself, from such quarters as the Sierra Club and the LA Times, that he begrudgingly agreed to revisit the details of his proposed bill. The damage had been done, however, and he had alienated too many potential interests, who might have proven invaluable in developing a piece of legislation that could have been truly revolutionary, if somewhat more nuanced than the original form.
My hope now is that Senator Wiener learns from this experience. He was not wrong in his general objective. He was incorrect in his specific approach. Credit is due, though, to the Senator: for lighting a match under municipalities whose bureaucracies have for too long kicked this can down the road. The warning bell has been rung, and it would not behoove our cities to meet Senator Wiener’s unfortunate strategy with their own arrogance and hubris. Change is due, and I sincerely hope that when Senator Wiener looks to revisit the matter, he will find that local legislatures will have done the job well enough to both adequately approach his noble aspirations and meet the needs of the community they more knowledgeably serve.