Public Comment

What's Wrong with AB2923

Zelda Bronstein
Saturday August 18, 2018 - 04:02:00 PM

State Senator Steven Glazer, a Democrat representing the Seventh Assembly District in Contra Costa County, has sent a strong letter opposing the BART development bill, AB 2923, to the measure’s authors, Assemblymembers David Chiu (D, San Francisco) and Tim Grayson (D, Concord). The bill would take zoning authority over BART stations in Alameda, Contra Costa and San Francisco counties and land within a 1/2 mile of the stations from the host municipalities and give it to BART.

Glazer highlighted five outstanding issues. Here’s a summary of his argument.  

AB 2923: 

* Does not identify a problem 

“This bill assumes….that city have refused BART requests for housing project approval.” It “ignores the fact cities in my district have approved thousands of units of housing near their BART stations, even though BART has not tried to build housing on the property it owns. 

* Sets a dangerous precedent for special districts 

If AB 2923 becomes law, its enactment “is certain to prompt future legislation that grants land use authority to some of [the 4,000 other special districts across the state], especially transit agencies similar to BART. 

* Promotes collusion with unresponsive developers 

This is an argument I haven’t seen before. It’s cogent and alarming, so I’m going to reprint Glazer’s text in full: 

“In some situations, AB 2923 would promote collusions between developers and BART to undermine local land use authority in certain situations. While the bill may appear to grant new authority only to BART, in practice the law could be used by private developers to circumvent local control. A developer unhappy with a community’s decision on a project could form a private-public partnership with BART to take advantage of BART’s new power, bypassing city project approval. 

"AB 2923 permits BART to purchase land adjacent to its current property as long as the property purchased does not exceed 10% of the total size of the existing property and is used only for a TOD [transit-oriented development] project within a half mile of a BART station. The bill also provides that the majority of the project must be on existing property. 

“As long as the developer complies with the aforementioned guidelines, nothing in the bill prevents a developer from selling its land to BART and then having BART zone the land to the developer’s specifications. 

* Restricts public access to decision-makers 

AB 2923 "requires BART to hold public hearings for proposed projects at its Oakland headquarters, but it is unreasonable to expect concerned residents of a city where a project is being proposed to have the same kind of access to these meetings as they would to a meeting in their own community.” 

* Violates the California Constitution 

The California Constitution “vests land use authority in California’s local government, through the police power, for good reason. Cities and counties understand the context of their decision making and are best equipped to act in way they find is suitable for their residents and the region.” 

Glazer closes by noting that the Legislature has recently passed bills that “circumvent local control.” Rather than passing another such measure, it “at least wait to see the impact of the new laws just passed.”  

Let’s be be clear: Glazer is no local control fundamentalist. Last year he voted for SB 167, authored by Berkeley’s representative in the State Senate, Nancy Skinner. And he states that he’s “open to speeding up the regulatory process for housing construction, most notably with CEQA streamling.” That’s code for further evisceration of the California Environmental Qualiity Act, the state's premier environmental protection law—a process undertaken with enthusiasm by real estate Democrats such as Skinner and San Francisco’s State Senator Scott Wiener, the author of the notorious SB 35, which, to his credit, Glazer opposed. 

All that said, Glazer makes a strong case against AB 2923. Last week the bill passed a major hurdle: it got through the Senate Appropriations Committee. It now moves to the Senate floor, where it must be heard and passed by August 31, or it will die. 

Meanwhile, since council’s May 29 meeting, when he fulminated against AB 2923 as a case of state overreach, Berkeley Mayor Arreuguín has been silent on the measure. Why?