For the second day in a row, SB 50 lost on an 18-15 vote, although Senator Scott Wiener during his press conference told the media that it was actually closer than that, and he felt “we were on the cusp of getting to 21.
“I’m deeply disappointed that SB 50 failed on the Senate floor,” the senator said. “We’ve been working for over two years on this legislation.”
He said, “Fundamentally this is about addressing California’s very debilitating housing shortage. We are short 3.5 million homes in California. We rank 49 out of 50 states per capita. Since 1960 our population has almost tripled, while our housing production has gone down by two-thirds or three-quarters.”
The result, he said, we see every day – homelessness, poverty, people in their cars, and more.
“This is a problem and we have to deal with it,” he said. He added that, as we build those new homes, “we must stop building sprawl.” He said, “It tanks our climate goals, clogs our freeways, pushes people into super commutes, destroys farmland, we need to concentrate the new housing near jobs – that’s what this bill is about.”
He added in a statement: “California’s housing status quo is badly broken. Today’s vote perpetuates that dysfunction. While I’m disappointed, I also know that the fight continues. We will not give up until we have put California on a positive and sustainable path to a better housing future. I will soon be announcing new housing production legislation.”
But while he was finally able to get the bill to the floor with the help of President Pro-Tem Toni Atkins, he was not able to garner enough support to pass the bill.
“I took the step of removing SB 50 and bringing it to the floor to give us all the chance to see if additional time and discussions would generate enough support to move the bill forward,” Toni Atkins said in a statement on Thursday.
“Here’s the thing: we need a housing production bill,” she said. One that includes a number of consensus solutions that would help solve the housing affordability crisis.
She concluded that the vote on Thursday “showed this particular vehicle isn’t it.”
She noted, “The opponents of SB 50 have real concerns.” But at the same time, she criticized, they “have offered no substantive alternative with the same kind of scope of SB 50. Things have to change. We need to reset the conversation.”
She said, “So I am making the commitment to you today that in the coming weeks I will be meeting with stakeholders on all sides to find a way forward on a housing production bill that can pass both houses and get the Governor’s signature.”
“This is not the end of this story,” she said. “Everyone needs to get ready to come to the table. Everyone needs to get ready for some compromise.”
This was also viewed as a setback for Governor Gavin Newsom. The governor had campaigned on the 3.5 million housing number. But the bill most likely in his mind to get that accomplished has now failed.
Governor Newsom released a statement Thursday applauding President Pro Tem Atkins for “vowing to continue this fight.”
The problem can be seen in the vote of Bill Dodd, who represents Davis and much of Yolo County in the State Senate. Senator Dodd had told the media he had planned to vote for the bill, but recognized this week how divided Democrats were on this measure.
He told the media he wanted an approach that more of his colleagues could support and argued that there are still seven months left to do that.
But what does that look like?
SB 50 did several things that Senator Wiener hoped would open up production. The biggest was it overrode zoning restrictions around public transit and transportation corridors by raising height limitations, eliminating single-family residential zoning in such areas, allowing for the conversion of vacant lots and homes into larger units, and allowing for the redevelopment of smaller apartment projects into higher density housing.
All of this proved controversial. On the one hand, groups representing labor unions, businesses and the construction industry lined up behind the bill. But local officials opposed the bill as they were concerned that they would lose the ability to oppose development that did not fit the character of their local community.
He attempted to compromise by giving cities time to create an alternative process to plan for similar amounts of housing – but those objections remained in place and it was Democrats from suburban and coastal districts that were the chief opposition.
In addition, supporters of affordable-housing and low-income communities also had concerns. Talks between the senator and those groups reached an impasse in the last week and many of those organizations opposed the bill, fearing the spread of gentrification and that the bill would make affordability worse rather than better. Many low-income communities worried that they would be pushed from their homes.
Most observers wonder what the next iteration of this type of legislation would look like to unite opposition.
Indeed, the vote broke down much more along the lines of geography rather than partisanship. Most Democrats from Northern California and the Central Valley supported the measure but most of Los Angeles County, for example, opposed.
Senator Wiener noted in his press conference that the senate leadership and the governor were adamant that “there must be a strong housing production bill this year.
“No more nibbling around the edges. It’s time to get to the heart of this problem,” he said.
Across the state, he said the housing crisis is fundamentally the same. But the solution becomes more complicated, given how quickly the situation in the Bay Area has worsened.
“The Bay Area has gone off of a housing cliff before L.A.,” he said. “On housing, the Bay Area is the tip of the spear in a bad way. One of our goals is we want to avoid having other parts of the state be like the Bay Area in terms of the housing crisis.”
By Thursday afternoon, he was posting on Twitter that he had introduced two new placeholder housing bills.
—David M. Greenwald reporting