Stephen Ellison

Ambitious State Bill Seeks Denser, Higher Home Building in Bay Area

An ambitious plan that aims to ease the Bay Area's housing crisis is now making its way through the state Legislature.

The bill spares new housing developments from a variety of restrictions if they're designated "transit-rich," meaning areas within a half-mile of BART stations could be built as high as eight stories, whether the city likes it or not. Senate Bill 827 requires new high-density construction, up to 85 feet tall, regardless of local building and zoning restrictions.

The goal is simple: Increase high-density housing near transit hubs like BART stations. Berkeley is one of the communities that would see some of the biggest changes if this bill becomes law. 

"It's taken us 50 years to get into this mess, and it's going to take quite some time to get out of it," state Sen. Scott Wiener said.

Berkeley software company UrbanFootprint used its software to look at how SB827 might increase available housing units. The numbers are staggering: Near Oakland's MacArthur station, new units would grow from just over 4,400 to more than 27,000; near the Rockridge station, from 4,100 to more than 25,000; and near the Orinda BART station, from about 700 to more than 12,000.

"It's our hope that with the data, this livens the debate and gets people thinking about alternative ways as well to address production," said Joe Distefano, UrbanFootprint's co-founder. "We all realize there is a massive housing supply issue."

Around the BART stations, residents worry about who will really benefit and whether this would lead to new problems.

"I'm not particularly concerned about crime, but I am about traffic, ya," Berkeley resident Carl Goldstein said.

The bill is being tweaked as it moves through committees with bipartisan support.

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