California Senate kills key legislation that would have stimulated homebuilding
Moments after Sen. Scott Wiener’s controversial housing bill failed to make it out of the California Senate — for the third time since 2018 — Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, made a promise from the Senate floor.
“I want to personally commit to each and every one of you, to the people of California,” Atkins said Thursday, “that a housing production bill to help alleviate our housing crisis will happen this year.”
The bold statement came after what Atkins called “an incredible couple of days” of political debate and maneuvering to try to secure approval of Senate Bill 50, which would have overridden local zoning rules to allow midrise apartments near transit lines and stimulate building townhomes in single-family neighborhoods.
The bill, which Atkins called “the highest-profile piece of legislation that I can remember in years,” failed an initial Senate vote Wednesday. It died in a final reconsideration vote on Thursday.
Supporters portrayed it as a big but necessary step toward reducing the state’s housing shortage — and helping to curb carbon emissions from long-distance driving — by fostering residential development in dense urban corridors. Opponents decried it as state overreach into local land-use rules.
There is broad agreement California’s extraordinary cost of living and escalating homeless problem is rooted in a shortage of housing in general and a dearth of affordable housing in particular.
The North Coast’s two senators were divided on the bill, with Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, voting in favor and Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, opposing it.
Sen. Dodd said he received a great deal of opposition to the bill from constituents in Rohnert Park, Petaluma, Vallejo, Fairfield, Vacaville, and other communities. Dodd also expressed concern about the way the bill was pulled out of the Senate appropriations committee by Atkins in a last ditch effort to save it.
Dodd said there were too many Democrats in the Senate who thought the bill needed more work and that’s ultimately why it died.
Dodd insisted Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, the principal architect of the measure, and other supporters can take the “really strong parts” of the defeated legislation and work with opponents to draft another bill that could pass during this legislative session.
“We will have lost no time whatsoever, if we get it done by the end of this legislative session,” he said.
Dodd said he was swayed by many in his own party who thought the bill did not adequately “address affordable housing in any significant way.” He hopes “the bones” of SB 50 will be brought back to legislators and local governments statewide to come together on drafting a stronger bill.
“We got to find a compromise, a happy medium that will frankly force cities that have ignored their housing requirements,” Dodd said, “but not penalize cities like Rohnert Park and Petaluma that have done a wonderful job of building homes. There’s certainly a way to do that.”
Sen. McGuire said the big legislative defeat should not discourage California lawmakers trying to address the state’s housing crunch. He said one of the biggest blows to affordable housing was the elimination of redevelopment agencies across the state back in 2012.
Those agencies used to spend more than $1 billion on affordable housing across the state, he said. McGuire said he’s introduced a bill (Senate Bill 795) with Sen. Jim Beall, who supported SB 50, and Sen. Anthony Portantino, who opposed it, that would generate $1 billion a year for workforce affordable housing.