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Conflict Over Sen. Appropriations Chairman’s Decision to Kill Housing Bill Until 2020

SB 50 would have trumped city zoning rules

By Katy Grimes, May 17, 2019 1:55 pm

Thursday the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee announced that SB 50 by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) will become a “two-year bill,” effectively shelving the bill would mandate building significantly more dense housing throughout the state, near public mass transit in urban city centers.  

Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Canada Flintridge), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he was against SB 50 because it would have trumped zoning rules that are almost exclusively under the control of cities and counties, the Los Angeles Times reported. “Portantino announced that the bill had been shelved until 2020 at the beginning of the committee’s hearing Thursday morning. Portantino said in an interview that he was especially concerned by provisions in the bill that would have increased density around busy bus routes, saying doing so would be out of scale with existing communities. ‘A lot of them go through residential neighborhoods.'”

Effectively, this means SB 50 is done this year, without a floor vote, and will be eligible for a vote in 2020. The Appropriations Committee did not vote on the bill. Here’s what Sen. Portantino was referring to:

SB 50 would require local governments to provide a specified “equitable communities incentive” to developers that construct residential developments in “jobs-rich” and “transit-rich” areas, which may include certain exceptions to specified requirements for zoning, density, parking, height restrictions, and floor area ratios, according to bill analysis.

It was no secret that there were significant disputes over SB 50 among Democrats over housing affordability solutions. Democrats who hail from middle class and  affluent cities were under pressure to oppose the bill which many believe would have greatly changed residential neighborhoods from single family homes to adding many apartment buildings, and low-income housing.

This is a deja vu: Democrats aggressively tried to pass a single-payer health care bill in 2017, which many said was poorly written and flawed, and were livid when Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Los Angeles) pulled the bill saying they could revisit it in 2018. It was a brilliant rouse for a flawed bill that had no chance of passage. 

As with the single payer health bill, it appears Democrat leaders aren’t in favor of this housing bill that would put them at odds with city leaders, who would be forced by the state to make this work in their cities. They risk open rebellion if this bill were to pass. Many have said the bill needs heavy amendments in order to pass.

Senator Wiener issued the following statement Thursday at the announcement of the shelving of his bill:

“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. 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. 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.”

But that was not enough. Friday, Wiener released this press statement:

“Today, a new statewide poll was released showing 66% of California voters support Senator Scott Wieners (D-San Francisco) SB 50, the More HOMES Act. The poll showed support in all regions and among all demographics. Support was especially strong among Black and Latino communitiespeople under 40, and renters. SB 50 eliminates hyper-low-density zoning near transit and job centers, thus legalizing apartment buildings and affordable housing in these locations so that more people can live near transit and near where they work. This new poll follows a recent poll showing 61% statewide support for SB 50.”

About one hour later, Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego) issued the following statement on calls to remove SB 50 from Appropriations Committee jurisdiction:

“I will not circumvent the decision made by the Appropriations Committee Chair on SB 50. Regardless of my own personal feelings about this critical issue, part of my job as the leader of the Senate is to uphold the authority and decisions of committee chairs and take into consideration the views of committee members. To be clear, the bill is not dead, and this is the first year of a two-year session. Short of significantly amending the bill and limiting its applications in large swaths of the state, there was no path to move forward this year. More work needs to be done, and there is no better leader on housing to do that work than Senator Wiener.”

Rendon made it very clear in 2017 that he would not reconsider his decision to shelve the single payer bill. It appears Atkins is doing the same with the mandatory housing/transit bill.

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