SB 50, Controversial Housing Bill Killed For At Least Another Session

For the second consecutive year, Senator Scott Wiener’s controversial housing bill has been shelved.  On Thursday, the Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee announced that SB 50 will become a “two-year bill,” meaning it will not come to a vote this year, but it would be eligible for a January 2020 vote.

According to a release, the Appropriations Committee did not vote on the bill.  It did receive bipartisan 9-1 and 6-1 votes in its two committee hearings, has 17 bipartisan co-authors from all over California, and is backed by a coalition of labor, environmental, affordable housing, business, senior, and student organizations.

However, it was also extremely controversial and had an equally large group of organizations opposing it.  While the measure seeks to address housing shortages in California promoting more and higher density development near public transit, it would also eliminate the ability of local communities to control growth and development.

SB 50 eliminates “hyper-low-density zoning near transit and job centers, thus legalizing small to mid-size apartment buildings and affordable housing in these locations so that more people can live near transit and near where they work. It also reduces or eliminates minimum parking requirements for new developments.”

Some are concerned that provisions in the bill would lead to the elimination of single-family zoning near transit by allowing lots in residential areas to be converted from single family homes to dwellings with up to four units.

“While I’m deeply disappointed that the Chair of the Appropriations Committee has decided to postpone SB 50 until 2020 – since we have a housing crisis right now – we are one hundred percent committed to moving the legislation forward. California faces a 3.5 million home shortage – equal to the combined housing shortage of the other 49 states – and the status quo isn’t working,” Senator Wiener said in a statement.

“California’s failed housing policy is pushing people into homelessness, poverty, and two-hour commutes, is pushing working families out of their communities and out of the state entirely, and is undermining California’s climate goals,” he said. “We need to do things differently when it comes to housing. We’re either serious about solving this crisis, or we aren’t. At some point, we will need to make the hard political choices necessary for California to have a bright housing future.”

Senate Leader Toni Atkins also responded, “Senator Wiener is a statewide leader on housing policy. By authoring SB 50, Senator Wiener has created the space for a difficult, but critically important, conversation for policymakers. As a two-year bill, the Legislature can continue this critical conversation with housing advocates, local communities and all interested parties. I am grateful to Senator Wiener for his relentless commitment to increasing housing supply in our state.”

Supporters believe that SB 50 would “relieve California’s acute housing shortage (currently a deficit of 3.5 million homes, equal to the housing deficits of the other 49 states combined), make housing more affordable, increase the supply of low-income housing, and reduce pressure to create more sprawl and build in wildfire zones.  The bill will also reduce carbon emissions by allowing more people to live near transit and near where they work.”

But many housing and environmental groups continued to oppose the measure.

Livable California concludes: “SB 50 is a Real Estate not a Housing Bill for the Affordable Housing that California needs.”  They write: “Senate Bill 50 Rewards Unchecked Speculation, Will Kill Cherished  Neighborhoods, Severely Gentrify Working-Class Areas and Significantly Worsen Housing Affordability. SB 50 Will Displace Tens of Thousands of People.”

The Bee in February reported that new research, published by Urban Affairs Review in January, “suggests that the approach known as ‘upzoning’ isn’t necessarily a magic bullet.”

Yonah Freemark, the study’s author and a doctoral candidate at MIT, found “no evidence for short- or medium-term increases in housing-unit construction.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Alan Miller

    Good.  Riddance.  For a year.  At least.

    One thing oft not mentioned is the same neighborhoods that are near rail stations are often the historic parts of a town, the very parts that should be under local control, lest the town loses its character.

    Not that I’m not for mass densification near rail stations.  I am.  Including, I’m in favor of replacing much of Davis downtown’s 1-story faceless buildings and parking lots with housing-over-business medium-rise buildings.  However, every town should have the say in what areas are protected for historic/character reasons and what is appropriate to densify.  Not the state, lest a town lose its character from authority from above.  Buildings are important to what makes a town a town.

    And that’s the truth.  Pfffffft.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Agree, with two somewhat tongue in cheek (mouth) comments/nuances…

      Good luck finding consensus on what the ‘character’ of a given urban entity is… am guessing that in a burg of 60,000, there would be 65,000 views… I think we can get consensus that all urban entities have ‘characters’…

      “Not that I’m not for…”  double negatives are problematic… as are double positives (yeah, right).

      Otherwise, fully agree… and yes, I get the “And that’s the truth.  Pfffffft.” referent and love it!  Verrrry interesting choice… please continue to ‘sock it to us’, as warranted…


  2. Craig Ross

    While this was by no means a perfect bill, Alan Miller inadvertantly demonstrates the fundamental problem here when he states, “every town should have the say…”. That means that the people who have houses get to decide who to exclude from their community.

    1. Alan Miller

      -ish.  There should be a requirements for ‘fair share’ such as SACOG does, but towns should decide the land-use balance between values of housing needs and where that housing goes.

    2. Bill Marshall

      Craig… non house owners vote, and choose Councils, who appoint Commissions, who recommend zoning (and the CC approves, with public input all around)… that said, the State should step in, as it has in the past, if there are egregious local land use decisions such as “no coloureds allowed”, no students allowed, no one with income less than $200k allowed.  CA fair housing act (Unruh) comes to mind.

      As you say, it is “by no means a perfect bill”… a mantra about treating people is “first, do no harm”… unintended consequences can be a b&*#$.  Might even kill the patient.

      Time and time again, State (or Fed) “mandates” or conversely “restrictions” as to what localities can or can’t do, have wrecked havoc as often as not (except for the egregiously wrong things).

      A revised/re-worked/new/different bill, is in order… the real issues need to be dealt with, but not in the manner currently proposed, IMHO…

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