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Transit Housing Bill, SB50, Fails for Second Time in Two Days

Silicon Valley sprawl. This kind of building pattern is caused, in large part, by zoning restrictions that force cities to grow out rather than up. SB50 was meant to start correcting this. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

After more than two years of pushing, compromising, and racking up endorsements, San Francisco Senator Scott Wiener's transit housing bill, SB50, failed today to get the 21 votes it needed to get out of the Senate. "We must stop building sprawl," he told a group of reporters after the vote. "It tanks our climate goals, clogs our freeways, and pushes people into super commutes. We need to concentrate the new housing near jobs and near transit."

President pro Tempore of the California State Senate Toni Atkins, a central backer of the legislation, also expressed regret at the bill falling three votes short of what it needed to clear the Senate. "SB50 might not be coming forward right now, but the status quo can not stand," she said to fellow lawmakers. "This is not acceptable." She urged lawmakers to come together and pass a future housing bill to try and address the acute housing crisis facing California.

The tally from today. 21 "yes" votes were needed.

"SB50 was a bold solution to address our state's housing, transportation and climate change crises," wrote Nicholas Josefowitz, SPUR Director of Policy. "It was supported by a broad coalition, and provided local communities with local flexibility. It had strong protections against housing being built in dangerous areas, like those prone to wildfires. Our state needs bold solutions right now. Doing nothing in the search of perfection is not a viable option. I hope California's Legislative leaders continue to fight for a set of solutions this year that delivers on SB50's promise."

Which is not to say all progressive advocates were lining up to support SB50. Last week, a coalition of social justice organizations that advocate on many different issues including transportation, housing and zoning, wrote a letter opposing the bill unless it was further amended.

"We continue to have concerns with a number of the bill’s provisions, and the last two rounds of amendments have raised new questions and concerns," the letter stated. "Our concerns reflect input we have gathered from dozens of tenant organizing groups, non-profit developers, legal service organizations, local, state, and national equity organizations, and other community-based institutions."

The organizations listed three areas of concern: that the legislation did not generate affordable housing at a level to justify the subsidies it offered, did not protect communities already at risk of displacement, and failed to fully protect local affordable housing policies and strong local plans.

The list of groups opposed to SB50 included, Alliance for Community Transit - Los Angeles, Public Counsel, Western Center on Law and Poverty, Mission Economic Development Agency, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, and 23 others.

With the legislature not voting to support SB50, some supporters are urging Governor Gavin Newsom to get more involved in promoting a solution.

Meanwhile, Todd David of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition told Streetsblog it was frustrating lobbying state senators who asked for compromises to the bill to allow "flexibility" and "local control," but then who voted against it anyway, or sat out the vote, even after their requested amendments were added. And now "the responsibility of getting a significant housing production bill squarely falls to the governor," he said, adding that Governor Newsom promised to build millions of housing units in the next five to ten years. "But without a rezoning bill I don't know he fulfills that promise."

Senator Scott Wiener making a final plea at the Senate this morning. Image: SenateMediaTV1
Senator Scott Wiener making a final plea at the Senate this morning. Image: SenateMediaTV1

The San Francisco Chronicle's editorial board was stark in its criticism of California lawmakers who opposed the bill, writing that "A vote against SB50 is a vote for California’s housing and homelessness crisis." Other papers were equally critical and candid:

Senator Wiener promised to "dust himself off" and start again in an ongoing effort to build 3.5 million homes in California. "We are in a world of hurt in California," he said. "The suffering, the pain, people living in their cars, young people not being able to envision a future in their communities... this did not just happen. It’s because of deliberate policy choices, and one of those is the adoption throughout California of restrictive zoning."

"California’s housing status quo is badly broken. Today’s vote perpetuates that dysfunction," he said in a statement about the bill's defeat. "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."

And here's what Wiener means by "soon:"

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