Upzoning the Inland Empire

While most of the discussion surrounding the controversial MORE Homes Act (SB50) has focused on the impact on communities in the Bay Area and greater Los Angeles, the bill could have a tangible impact on neighborhoods in the Inland Empire as well. 

In response to the ever-present California housing crisis, Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) proposed SB50, a bill that would allow upzoning in areas near “high-quality” public transportation. In particular, residential zones within a half mile radius of a rail station or within a quarter mile radius of a bus station with headways of 6 to 15 minutes during rush hour could see a greater quantity of taller, denser housing built in their neighborhoods. A decision on the bill won’t be made until 2020 at the earliest, giving lawmakers, civic action groups, and California residents alike the opportunity to debate the merits of Sen. Wiener’s proposal. 

So far, the conversation has primarily focused on SB50’s potential impacts on the Bay Area and Los Angeles, two regions who have most acutely felt the impacts of the housing crisis. But analysis from the Lowe Institute projects non-negligible impacts on a number of major Inland Empire cities were the bill to pass. Like most of California, the majority of residential land in Inland Empire cities is zoned for single family use. In fact, in both Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, approximately 74.5% of all housing units are single-family units, and in certain cities such as Fontana or Moreno Valley the figure is closer to 82%. But by cross-referencing city zoning maps of the ten largest Inland Empire cities with risk analysis from UC Berkeley’s Terner Center, the Lowe Down is able to identify exactly which cities, and which neighborhoods within these cities, are at risk of being upzoned. 

Of the ten largest Inland Empire cities, Rancho Cucamonga, Ontario, Victorville, Murrieta, and Temecula would be virtually unaffected by SB50-mandated upzoning. In these cases, there are either no qualifying public transit stops within the city limits, or the transit stops are not located in residential zones. For example, the land surrounding the Metrolink stop in Rancho Cucamonga is almost exclusively industrial, with the only residential zone being an apartment complex just to the south.

Source: Google Images

On the other hand, certain residential areas in the remaining five largest Inland Empire cities, Riverside, San Bernardino, Fontana, Corona, and Moreno Valley, could face significant upzoning. In the city of Riverside, residential communities along the #1 bus route, which travels up Magnolia Ave, passing by the Riverside Metrolink stations and Riverside City College before turning onto University Ave, are comprised of primarily single-family homes and would qualify for upzoning according to SB50. The low and medium density residential housing zones in the Arlington and La Sierra South, as well as those outlined in black below could all see their zoning designation change. 

Source: Google Images

The story is similar in San Bernardino, where a qualifying bus line that travels north up Waterman Ave and turns onto Highland Ave would render many of the surrounding residential areas prone to upzoning. However, upzoning would likely have a more muted effect in San Bernardino than in Riverside because a greater percentage of zones surrounding transport centers are either commercial, industrial, or already zoned for higher density housing. 

In Fontana, a city where only 18% of housing units are designated as multi-family, a number of homes just south of the Metrolink plaza and along the Sierra street bus route would become eligible for upzoning (framed in black). 

Source: Google Images

Corona, too, would see upzoning effect just one pocket of homes, those located to the south of the Corona Metrolink stop and the Riverside Freeway. 

Finally, in Moreno Valley there a few pockets of single-family low-density housing that could face upzoning. Notably homes near the Towngate Shopping Center, Moreno Valley College, and those flanking the Perris Blvd bus route. 

Overall, it should be noted that SB50’s direct impact on neighborhood complexion in the Inland Empire is unclear. Relatively few neighborhoods would be affected by possible upzoning, and those neighborhoods that qualify are confined to the largest metropolitan communities. Moreover, just because a greater percentage of residential zones allow higher density housing doesn’t mean that a wave of apartment complexes will be built overnight. In fact, in many mixed residential zones, where both single-family units and multi-family units are permitted, single homes still dominate. Developers need to see a profitable opportunity to invest in the construction of higher density housing, and it is unclear that they do in the Inland Empire. 

However, if many of the communities eligible for upzoning were reconstructed with more higher-density housing, the impacts could be negative. As the Terner Center notes, many of the Inland Empire neighborhoods near qualifying transit centers have a greater share of poor and non-white residents. With concerns over rising housing prices in the Inland Empire and weak provisions in SB50 for the guarantee of affordable housing, Inland Empire residents are rightly concerned with gentrification and displacement from their homes due to issues of affordability. Furthermore, SB50 could have an indirect effect on the Inland Empire by increasing the supply of available housing in Los Angeles County. The allure of shorter commute times might draw residents out of Riverside and San Bernardino counties, impacting the region’s overall prospects for growth.

With SB50 on the horizon, it’s difficult to decipher exactly how far the bill would go to alleviate California’s housing crisis. The goal is clear: slow down rapidly increasing home prices and provide more housing options to Californians by tackling restrictive zoning codes. However, each region of California faces different housing pressures and concerns, and it remains to be seen whether or not the Inland Empire would benefit from SB50.