Major California housing bill shelved, stalling push for denser, transit-oriented development
State legislation that sought to ramp up housing creation along the North Bay’s commuter rail line and pave the way for denser residential development near transit stops statewide ran into a dead end Thursday in Sacramento, where top lawmakers shelved the bill this for this year.
The designation of Senate Bill 50 as a “two-year bill” prevents it from advancing out of committee before January, stalling what was seen as the most aggressive current effort in the Legislature to combat California’s housing crisis.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, a vocal advocate for stronger state intervention to spur housing development, bemoaned the decision.
“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,” Wiener said in a statement. “We need to do things differently when it comes to housing.”
SB 50 would allow denser development on vacant plots in many single-family neighborhoods and open the door for taller buildings along railways like the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit system and bus lines. It gained new life last month, when Wiener and Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, reached a deal to consolidate their housing bills into the single proposal that was shelved Thursday.
McGuire was not available for an interview to discuss the bill he co-wrote. His spokeswoman said he was “disappointed” with SB 50’s fate and provided a prepared statement from the senator.
“We worked hard with local elected leaders to bring a balanced approach that delivered on the promise of affordable workforce housing without a one-size-fits-all solution,” McGuire said in the statement. “It’s going to take courage and strategic action to get us out of the crisis we’re in. Advancing housing policy in the state Legislature has always been a heavy lift and we are committed to continue our work on affordable housing in the months to come.”
Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, who chairs the appropriations committee, said the decision to postpone SB 50 was made despite the bill’s good intentions. In a statement, he cited qualms that SB 50 as written could increase gentrification and depress light-rail expansion amid a list of “legitimate concerns expressed from both large and small cities ... all of which justified the pause today by the committee.”
Sonoma and Marin counties would be treated differently than Los Angeles and San Francisco counties, and cities such as Oakland, Santa Rosa and Healdsburg all would be subject to different rules, under the compromise legislation put forward by Wiener and McGuire.
The bill would empower developers of apartments within a half-mile of one of Santa Rosa’s two rail stations to erect taller buildings than would be allowed otherwise. It would also prohibit cities like Santa Rosa from imposing parking requirements on developers within a quarter-mile of a SMART station, among other provisions.
Santa Rosa officials have downplayed the impact of the landmark housing bill on the city, pointing to existing local pro-growth policies passed in recent months. That didn’t change with Thursday’s news that the bill wasn’t going anywhere in 2019.
“Santa Rosa’s doing a lot of things that were going to be included in SB 50,” said Mayor Tom Schwedhelm. “Although, I would like more cities to follow our lead, so it’s somewhat disappointing” that the bill was delayed.