Controversial housing bill that challenges single-family zoning is dead for the yearSB 50 will come back for a vote in 2020
State Sen. Scott Wiener speaks at a demolition ceremony for the Vallco Shopping Mall, Thursday, Oct.11, 2018, in Cupertino, Calif. Wiener’s SB 35 bill was used to help usher along a new development for the site. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
By MARISA KENDALL and KATY MURPHY |
PUBLISHED: May 17, 2019 at 6:48 am | UPDATED: May 17, 2019 at 6:49 am
A controversial housing bill that called for sweeping changes to California’s zoning rules is dead for the year — a major setback for an ambitious legislative package that aimed to solve the housing crisis, but a triumph for residents worried the zoning overhaul would change their cities for the worse.
Senate Bill 50, which would have allowed fourplexes in neighborhoods zoned for single-family homes and forced cities to approve taller, denser residential buildings near transit stops, was one of the most-watched — and hotly debated — bills of the year. It also was the cornerstone of a group of bills seeking to reform everything from renter protections to residential development, part of an effort to ease the affordable housing shortage that for years has been driving Californian’s costs up and quality of life down. The effort has been taking place under a governor who has made housing a priority and specifically asked for housing bills to sign.
But SB 50 divided the state, pitting slow-growth groups against YIMBYs, developers against anti-gentrification advocates, and local mayors against state legislators.
It all came to a head Thursday. Moments before the bill was set to undergo a crucial vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee, the committee chair, Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, announced SB 50 would join a handful of measures to become “two-year bills.” That means SB 50 will be held for the rest of the year and come back for a vote in January 2020.
“There were legitimate concerns expressed from both large and small cities about the scope of SB 50 as it pertained to bus corridors, historic preservation, the definition of ‘jobs rich’ neighborhoods and whether it would increase gentrification and discourage light rail expansion as unintended consequences; all of which justified the pause established today by the committee,” Portantino wrote in a statement.
But the fact that the committee held SB 50 this year, instead of killing it outright, is significant, said David Garcia, policy director for UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation.
“Bills get turned into two-year bills every now and then,” he said. “I think that signifies that the goals of the bills are worthy, but they simply couldn’t get the support in time for it to move further. But they want to continue the conversation into the next part of the legislative session.”
The bill was the second attempt by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, to pass sweeping zoning reform. His similar measure, SB 827, died last year in its first committee hearing.
“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,” Wiener wrote in an emailed statement. “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.”
Housing advocates still had reason to cheer Thursday, as several other housing bills made it out of the Appropriations Committee and will advance to the Senate floor. They include SB 329, which would prohibit landlords from discriminating against Section 8 tenants; SB 330, which would prevent cities and counties from imposing new parking requirements for housing developments; SB 5, which would fund affordable housing development at a cost of $200 million per year; and SB 6, which would create a database of local land suitable for residential development.
But none of those bills generated as much opposition as Wiener’s SB 50. City leaders fumed that it would strip their ability to control what gets built within their borders. And affordable housing advocates worried it would lead to more high-end development, which would displace low-income residents.
“Obviously we’re really pleased about the delay and think it’s a big success and victory for people who are really concerned about issues of affordable housing for low-income residents,” said Susan Kirsch, founder of slow-growth group Livable California.
It may be more difficult for SB 50 to pass in 2020 because it’s an election year, Garcia said. Legislators up for re-election may be hesitant to cast a vote for such a controversial bill or may urge its author to soften its impact.
SB 50 made it through two committee hearings before it was tabled Thursday, and it went through several changes along the way. As part of a compromise last month with Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, Wiener agreed to give special treatment to smaller cities and counties, and exempted small coastal cities, historic districts and fire-prone areas from his zoning reforms. But the compromise also included an especially controversial new measure — cities would be required to approve fourplexes on vacant land in any residential neighborhood in California, a move critics have decried as an attack on single-family zoning.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has asked the legislature to bring him housing bills to sign, was disappointed.
“California must address the housing supply shortage head on, and we need to be able to use every tool in the toolkit to address this systemic crisis,” he wrote in a statement.
But Palo Alto Mayor Eric Filseth was relieved.
“It’s welcome to see cooler thinking starting to prevail in Sacramento,” Filseth wrote in an email. “Housing costs and also transportation remain really serious problems in the Bay Area, and I hope Sacramento will take this year to work with cities, instead of against them.”
see article in the Marin IJ HERE