Toni Atkins Takes No Blame For Shelving Of Major Housing Bill
Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins is pushing back against calls from housing advocates that she should rescue a stalled bill aimed at addressing the state's housing crisis.
Senate Bill 50, authored by Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco, would require cities and counties to allow denser and taller housing near public transit and in wealthy communities where zoning allows only single-family homes.
The bill was shelved last week by Sen. Anthony Portantino, who represents suburban Los Angeles and chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee. It has faced fierce opposition from some wealthy communities, homeowners and groups representing low-income tenants.
Atkins, who represents San Diego, said in an interview Friday she would have voted "yes" on SB 50 had it reached the Senate floor, but that she was deferring to the decision of Portantino to not move it forward this year.
"There were obviously people in the Senate ... who felt like there was a lot more to be done," Atkins said. "Why not bring it up and let it be voted on? You know, the Appropriations Committee chair decided that's not what he would do."
Supporters say the status quo of local governments having nearly complete control of zoning has contributed to the state's acute housing shortage, pushing up rents and making home ownership unattainable for low- and middle-income Californians. Environmental groups say it would also reduce the state's greenhouse gas emissions by allowing more people to live near public transit or in neighborhoods with shorter commutes.
Since SB 50's shelving, a number of interest groups, activists and constituents have been urging Atkins to use her leadership position to allow the full Senate to vote on the bill.
Earlier this week, Atkins wrote an op-ed saying she was "supportive of the concepts advanced by Senate Bill 50" but that she would not bring it to the Senate floor. She also echoed many of the talking points from critics that the bill was not sensitive to different types of neighborhoods.
"There are real issues with SB 50, however, including concerns from the countless communities I have heard from that one size does not fit all," she wrote. "Many communities also feel uncertain about exactly where and how the proposal would impact them."
Wiener has significantly amended SB 50 from the original form in order to win support from skeptical colleagues. The bill has different development rules depending on a number of factors, including a city or county's population and whether a parcel of land is near a bus stop versus a rail or ferry station.
Atkins said Friday she disagreed with some of those amendments.
"There were changes to the bill that ... addresses the 'one size doesn't fit all,' but really some of those changes just exempted those areas" that were opposed to the bill, Atkins said. "I don't exactly think that's a good option either."
Atkins added that SB 50 could be revived in 2020 with more amendments. She pointed out to her critics that it took her years to secure passage of Senate Bill 2, which placed a fee on real estate transactions to raise money for affordable housing.
"Because they're so angry at me, I guess, they tend to gloss over the fact it took me seven years to get a piece of legislation passed," Atkins said. "And I continued to work on it, and I continued to pull people together. And I lost that bill as a speaker (of the Assembly)."
Housing remains a central focus of state lawmakers and Governor Gavin Newsom, and both are under pressure to deliver reforms to protect tenants, increase resources for low-income housing and stimulate new home building. Atkins said she had been advocating for solutions to the housing crisis for decades, and that she would continue those efforts.
"My commitment to this housing issue remains what it has always been — absolutely solid in trying to figure out a solution," she said. "I will take responsibility for anything that I'm a part of."