State Lawmakers To Again Consider Controversial Housing Bill
Speaker 1: 00:00 The battle over SB 50 begins again as the bill to increase housing density across California is re-introduced in Sacramento. That proposal from Senator Scott Wiener of San Francisco would require cities to build more housing near transit and work centers to ease the state's housing crisis and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But in the process, the bill threatens to remove land use control from local governments since it was tabled in committee last year. SB 50 has been modified, but it's still expected to generate lots of controversy as it moves through the state legislature this year. Journey may is KPBS Metro reporter Andrew Bowen. Andrew. Hi. I now does this new version of SB 50 still requires cities to build denser and taller housing, even if it violates local land use zoning measures. It doesn't require them to build it, but it requires them to zone for it. And this is precisely the point of the law, which is that um, California for a very long time has given local governments very broad authority over land use issues. Speaker 1: 01:03 And the argument from the supporters of SB 50 is that cities have largely failed to plan for enough housing to match population growth and economic growth. So this has happened really in pretty much all Metro areas in California. But let's take the Bay area for example. You saw an explosion of high paying tech jobs, no corresponding increase in the supply of housing. And with that scarcity of housing, you get higher prices, you get displacement of longtime residents in the poor and communities of color. And you also get super commuters who are driving very long distances, hours on end from the excerpts to get to their jobs in the cities. And that creates bad traffic and bad air quality. And so a SB 50 is an effort to really set a statewide standard for growth. It saying it should be near public transit, it should be near job centers. Speaker 1: 01:51 And this era of the state leaving land use and zoning issues up to almost entirely up to cities has to end. What are some of the changes in this new version of the bill? Well first start is it's dramatically different than when it was first introduced a year ago. And then there was an earlier version of it in 2018. Um, last year the amendments included some lighter treatment for counties with lower populations, populations of 600,000 people or less. I'm also an exemption for the coastal zone in very small cities and an exemption for wildfire prone areas. Um, developers also have to set aside a portion of their homes as affordable for low income households. And, uh, the most notable change that was unveiled yesterday when the bill was reintroduced is a two year delay in implementation. And this is a pretty big change. So if cities can craft their own alternative plan that would result in the same goals being met of more housing, near public transit, et cetera, um, then the city will be able to approve that plan instead of the baseline more brute force upzoning. Speaker 1: 02:54 Uh, we call it, um, that SB 50 would require. Um, but the local plan cannot result less housing than otherwise would be required under the law and it can't result in more sprawl and car travel. So Wiener, Senator Wiener in a conference call yesterday described this as just allowing cities and counties to make pretty small tweaks to what would otherwise be required by the law. Let's say shifting density or building Heights over by a block or two but not a wholesale reorientation of, of what the bill would require. Andrew, what are some of the major arguments against SBA 50? We've seen opposition from, I think you could distill it to two different camps. So on the one side you have more well off homeowners and neighborhood groups and they see, um, they say that their, their neighborhoods, they like them the way they are. They don't want them to change. Speaker 1: 03:39 They fear that more density will bring in more traffic, the infrastructure will be strained. And also just the look and feel of the low density sort of single family home neighborhoods that, um, you know, that we can picture in our minds right now I'm sure will be lost. On the other side, you have groups that are representing low income communities, um, and, and communities at risk of gentrification. And they see this risk of developers coming into poor neighborhoods where land is cheaper, building up luxury housing, turbocharging, gentrification and ultimately displacing the residents there. Um, I will say though, the opposition from those groups has been quieter, uh, since some of the amendments that Wiener has put into this bill. Um, uh, I mentioned the affordable housing set aside. Um, developers also can't use the build to demolish buildings that are currently occupied by renters or have been in recent years. Speaker 1: 04:31 But it is interesting to see opposition from this coming from two completely different places. There is however widespread support for SB 50 with lots of big city mayors supporting it, but not mayor Faulkner, mayor Faulconer. It's interesting. So he has passed or is proposing many different housing policies that are very similar to SB 50. He already got the council city council to agree to eliminate minimum parking requirements for new apartment and condo buildings that are near public transit. SB 50 would do the same. Um, he also has approved a number of zoning changes in neighborhoods across the city that add density, that raise building height limits near public transit. So he sort of philosophically is in line with the, the intent of SB 50, but he has not explicitly, uh, said yes, this is a bill that I support and we have seen support from the mayors of San Francisco, from Sacramento, from San Jose and Oakland. Speaker 1: 05:26 But mayor Faulkner appears to be a holdout at least so far. He also, his office didn't respond to our request for comment. Uh, yesterday, there was a, some controversy last year when Senate pro tem president Tony Atkins of course, of San Diego refused to try to revive SB 50 when it failed to get out of committee. Does Atkins support this bill? Well, she's not a coauthor. Um, and typically she, she doesn't take positions on other senators bills until she has to vote on them. Um, but last year she did say she would have voted for SB 50 if it reached the full Senate. Um, she also said in an interview with me, uh, in September of last year that she would be more involved in SB 50 this year in amending the bill or helping get it passed or, or what have you. And so we don't really know what her involvement with this bill will be like at this point. Speaker 1: 06:13 That's kind of a wait and see. Can I think about governor Newsome? Would he sign it if it passes in the legislature? He also hasn't said or taken a, you know, hard position on this bill. The bill appears to be in line with his philosophy about housing. You know, that we need to build a lot more housing. And he made this big pronouncement in the campaign that he wanted to build 3.5 million homes in California by 2025, um, which were falling woefully short of, um, but, uh, we haven't gotten a position from him yet. Finally, what's the time frame for this new SB 50 to move through the legislature? It has to go back to the Senate appropriations committee, uh, where it got stalled last time and then it has to pass out to the full Senate by January 31st to stay alive. Okay. Thank you. I've been speaking with KPBS Metro reporter Andrew Bowen. Andrew, thanks. You're welcome.