Reason Interviews

Scott Wiener Is California's 'YIMBY' State Senator

The YIMBY Democrat wants to make it easier to build more housing in California's densest and most expensive cities.

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In November, voters in San Francisco reelected California Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat, over his opponent, democratic socialist Jackie Fielder. Wiener is a YIMBY, which stands for "yes in my backyard." Unlike Fielder and many other powerful California Democrats, he believes that making it easier for private actors to build more housing in the state's densest and most expensive cities is key to relieving California's housing shortage.

One of Wiener's signature legislative attempts would have preempted local control of zoning to allow mid-rise apartments near transit and to allow fourplexes almost everywhere. Those efforts didn't clear the Senate, but a smaller pro-development piece of legislation, Senate Bill 10, passed out of the Senate and might've passed the California Assembly had unrelated political wrangling not killed a host of bills at the end of the last state legislative session.

Reason's Christian Britschgi spoke to Wiener in January about his plans to reform housing regulations.

Q: How do you see the COVID-19 pandemic affecting the need for upzoning bills like S.B. 10?

A: I think it has no impact. Because when you talk about upzoning, it's a longer-term thing. When you change zoning, it's so that over time we'll produce more housing in a sustainable way. Sadly, housing production is not a fast process, even under the best of circumstances. Now's the time to change the rules, to modernize them, and to also acknowledge that we need to move away from sprawl development and focus more on new infill development.

Q: Sprawl was actually a pretty easy way to get affordable housing. 

A: One of the reasons why sprawl development is more affordable is because we have made it so hard and expensive to build infill development. I'm not saying that if we revolutionized how we are doing all housing that they're ever going to be equal in cost, but the differential that we're seeing now can be reduced significantly.

I'm not saying we should end all expansion in terms of where housing goes. We have to just be mindful about climate and about wildfires. Almost half of new housing we built in California in the last 30 years has been in a wildfire zone.

Q: S.B. 10 upzones for a particular number of units, as opposed to a set building height, as in your previous bills. Why is that?

A: The rationale behind S.B. 10 is that we want cities to upzone. There are plenty of cities that want to upzone, and we sometimes mandate them to upzone, but then we make it really, really hard for them to do it. It can take five, 10 years. We have to do an [environmental impact report]. They're going to get sued on it.

So the idea [behind S.B. 10] was that when a city wants to upzone in a way that's very impactful but a little bit less intensive—four, eight, 10 units—and if they're doing it in a jobs transit area or infill area, then we don't need to apply environmental analysis for that.

We're not talking about gigantic buildings that might have some other impacts that need to be taken into account. We're talking about the more light-touch density. So I think on balance, you can make a real argument that that kind of housing does not need the same kind of environmental scrutiny.

Q: One of the interesting things about the pandemic is that it has lowered rent in places like San Francisco as people have left dense urban areas. Does that take the pressure off zoning reform?

A: I think that all of this has a temporary nature to it. Yes, there'll be more work-from-home flexibility than before. Is it going to be the revolutionizing of work? No one's going to be going to the office anymore? I don't think so.

Regardless, we still have to have sustainable land use, whether people are working from home or going into work. If everyone's living in areas where you'd have to drive long distances to go anywhere, that's not sustainable. We still need housing for people and we still have the fundamental question of, Where should we put that housing?

This interview has been condensed and edited for style and clarity.

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  2. “The YIMBY Democrat wants to…”

    DEMOCRAT RED ALERT!!! DEMOCRAT RED ALERT!!! DEMOCRAT RED ALERT!!! AAAH-OOOH-GAAH! AAAH-OOOH-GAAH!

    All wing nuts PARTISAN your stations! If a democrat favors it, we must be AGAINST it! Let’s all be NIMBYs now!!!!

    1. Typically, that is safe and reasonable libertarian reaction. This time the democrat may be right.

  3. Stopped reading when he dragged out “sustainable” – the new leftie religion is high density soviet style block housing which is also sustainable.

    1. Libertarians need voters who suck cock, eat ass, get fucked in the ass, and swallow cum. How else will we defeat Republicans who want to expand the size of government?

    2. And there’s got to be trains. Trains trains trains.

  4. Wiener should be known as the guy who drafts bills that get him publicity, only to see them gutted and destroyed by special interests in completely predictable ways. He’s too left for CA’s Legislature, which is saying something profound. It was amusing to listen into his bill that would have forced a renegotiation of commercial rents. Instead to standing up to the landlords, he just bent over forwards.

    1. Libertarians need voters who suck cock, eat ass, get fucked in the ass, and swallow cum. How else will we defeat Republicans who want to expand the size of government?

    2. “Ban on fracking, other oil extraction methods dies in state Senate”
      […]
      “…Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, and and Sen. Monique Limon, D-Santa Barbara, who carried the bill, said in a joint statement that they were “extremely disappointed” by the committee vote. They also said they were inspired by those who supported their efforts by standing up “for the basic but important notions that California should lead on climate action and that permitting massive, destructive oil drilling isn’t consistent with being a climate leader.”…”
      https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/ban-on-fracking-other-oil-extraction-methods-dies-in-state-senate/ar-BB1fCo32?ocid=uxbndlbing

      The better you know him, the worse he it.

  5. This guy? This is Reason’s model California libertarian?

    1. Libertarians need voters who suck cock, eat ass, get fucked in the ass, and swallow cum. How else will we defeat Republicans who want to expand the size of government?

  6. All Libertarians should support any plan to pull control from local governments and push it up to the state level, right?

    1. Libertarians need voters who suck cock, eat ass, get fucked in the ass, and swallow cum. How else will we defeat Republicans who want to expand the size of government?

    2. I dunno. Whatever the mob rules, I say.

    3. I’ll spell it out for you.

      Less government = better.

      We have 4 layers of government
      Federal
      State
      County
      Municipal.

      Of these, only the Federal government is categorically worse than any of the others.

      The State government defines the power of county and municipal governments.

      If the State Government kneecaps the municipal governments, that is less government over all.

      And to recap, less government = beter.

  7. I’ll spell it out for you.

    Less government = better.

    We have 4 layers of government
    Federal
    State
    County
    Municipal.

    Of these, only the Federal government is categorically worse than any of the others.

    The State government defines the power of county and municipal governments.

    If the State Government kneecaps the municipal governments, that is less government over all.

    And to recap, less government = beter.

  8. Wait isn’t this the guy who pushed the bill that a 24 year old man could have sex with a 15 year old boy and it was not a felony? I’m sure NAMBLA was very happy. Very insightful that Reason would prop this guy up…Sullum thought “Cuties” was just fine…man there seems to be a “Keynes” issue at Reason..

  9. CA democrats want to dilute the suburban vote with urban sprawl and the attendant democrat votes. Suburban property owners are notoriously liberty-loving, hence the power grab. Pretty simple.

  10. This is such a scam – this is about big developers being greedy and gullible do-gooders following like sheep because it “sounds” like the right the to do.
    ONE of the unintended consequences of the YIMBY movement are that they persist in saying people do not need cars – so parking requirements are tossed out in rezoning leaving neighborhoods destroyed – but that’s fine because they are expensive areas and for every single family home that is sold the YIMBY supported developers can add multi-family high-rises and get tax breaks for them – WIN WIN for the wealthy developers!
    They do outreach to union workers promising them JOBs on developer sites if they make public comments at City, County and State meetings and at times the union folks have been PAID to show up and speak in favor of the developments and requested zoning changes.
    STOP calling this a political battle – this is an ignorance issue and there are gullible people in both political parties, there are greedy developers in BOTH political parties. The YIMBY’s are crushing single family neighborhoods and pushing for density in some of the highest taxed neighborhoods – where tax payers currently pay taxes that end up providing much needed fire and police services to the neighborhoods that cannot pay enough for those services.
    PLEASE look at the totality of the impacts caused by this short sighted movement towards density!

  11. The Dimocrat “YIMBY” is a scam. What they really mean is YIYBY. (Yes In Your Back Yard). Which would be more in keeping with their “good for thee but not for me” philosophy.

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