Working to Pass SB 50 in 2020: New Amendments and New Support

Scott Wiener
Jan 7 · 6 min read

It’s 2020, and that means SB 50, our landmark housing bill legalizing apartment buildings and affordable housing near jobs and public transportation, is up for consideration in the State Senate. Today, we’re announcing new amendments to the legislation — providing local governments with greater local flexibility in implementing SB 50’s requirements — as well as new support for the bill.

I’m excited to work with a growing coalition of supporters from every part of California to pass this landmark housing legislation. There’s a long year ahead — and with such a difficult bill, nothing is guaranteed — but we are cautiously optimistic about the bill’s prospects and grateful for the support from a wide variety of stakeholders, including affordable housing organizations, labor unions, environmental justice groups, organizations advocating for seniors and for students, economic development organizations, and a bipartisan group of state and local elected officials.

About SB 50

SB 50 is an equity bill, an affordability bill, and a climate bill. SB 50 overrides local restrictive zoning — zoning that bans apartment buildings and affordable housing by only allowing single-family homes — to this critically important housing near public transportation and near job centers. SB 50 will help address our housing affordability crisis by allowing the housing we need to end California’s massive shortage of homes — 3.5 million and growing. SB 50 ensures that as we build these millions of homes, we do so not just in low income areas but in wealthy communities as well. And, SB 50 ensures that instead of building sprawl housing — which increases commutes and carbon emissions, clogs our freeways, and destroys farmland — we instead focus these millions of new homes near jobs and transit.

SB 50 does all these things while also acknowledging the important truth that new housing must be additive and not about replacing existing residents. We need to ensure that existing residents can stay in the housing they have and not get pushed out. SB 50 addresses this need with some of the strongest tenant and anti-demolition protections in state law. It also requires that up to 25% of new units be affordable to low income residents. And, it delays implementation for five years in our low income communities most vulnerable to gentrification and displacement.

This legislative endeavor (SB 50 and its predecessor SB 827) is now in its third year of the legislative process. During this lengthy process, we’ve worked with a broad array of stakeholders around the state to listen to concerns and feedback and to make the bill as strong and effective as it can be. We’ve been working with housing equity advocates to ensure the bill supports low income communities and communities of color — communities that have been screwed over by bad housing policy for decades. We’re working to ensure that SB 50 is a benefit for these communities, which is why we added in strong tenant and anti-demolition protections, delayed implementation in low income communities, and a robust affordability requirement. We will continue to work with housing equity advocates to address the needs of these communities. We’re committed to that work.

We’ve also worked extensively with California’s cities, understanding that local government plays a critical role in California housing policy. While SB 50 acknowledges that California’s system of extreme local control over housing isn’t sustainable, the bill does not seek to end local control but rather to re-balance decision-making between the state and local governments.

New Amendments to SB 50

Today’s amendments seek to ensure that local governments can implement SB 50 in ways that works best for their communities — meeting SB 50’s goals of more housing, housing equity, and sustainability but tailoring the bill to unique local needs. Thus, SB 50, as amended, will give local governments two years to craft their own equivalent plan. If they do nothing, then after two years, SB 50’s provisions kick in. If a city chooses to craft its own plan, and if state agencies certify that the city’s plan meets SB 50’s goals, then that city-adopted plan will govern.

In order for a city’s plan to qualify and substitute for SB 50’s specific provisions, a city will have to re-zone to add an amount of new zoned housing capacity equal or greater to what SB 50 will provide. In other words, a city could decide to go taller in some areas and shorter in other areas or to focus density in some areas but not other areas. As long as the city’s alternative approach zones for at least the same amount of additional housing as SB 50 would, then the plan qualifies. And, if a city has engaged in its own re-zoning (increased housing capacity) in the past 20 years, the additional zoned housing that the city voluntarily adopted will be credited in order to reward good behavior.

In order for a city’s alternative plan to qualify, however, it must meet two other requirements. First, the plan must not increase vehicle miles traveled (VMT), for example, by zoning for new housing in areas disconnected from jobs and transit — i.e., sprawl development. The city’s plan must focus development near jobs and transit. Second, the plan must not violate fair housing principles, for example, by focusing new housing density disproportionately in low income communities or communities of color. Historically, cities have engaged in this discriminatory behavior, and SB 50 is designed to end this inequity. So, if a city chooses to craft its own plan, that plan must be equitable and impact wealthier and low income areas equally.

The amendments do not change a few key elements of SB 50. Sensitive communities will still receive a five-year delayed implementation. The bill’s affordability and tenant/anti-demolition provisions still apply everywhere. The bill’s parking provisions still apply. And, the bill’s allowance for statewide duplex, triplex, and fourplex won’t change. But the core aspects of the legislation — allowing multi-unit housing near jobs and transit — will allow cities to propose their own alternatives.

New Support for SB 50

Over the past few years, we’ve seen steadily growing support for SB 50, including broad support from labor, business, environmental groups, groups like AARP, Habitat for Humanity, and the UC Students Association, affordable housing organizations, and many mayors, city council members, and county supervisors.

I am thrilled to announce new endorsements of SB 50 from Mayor Megan Sahli-Wells of Culver City, Mayor Albert Robles of Carson, Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft of Alameda, Pacoima Beautiful (a San Fernando Valley-based housing equity and environmental justice organization), United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 5, the Southeast Asian Community Center, Clínica Monseñor, ICON Community Development Corporation, California Community Economic Development Association (CCEDA), Pacoima Community Housing Corporation, California Hispanic Chamber, LISC San Diego, and the Chicano Federation of San Diego County.

Other recent endorsers of SB 50 since the bill was delayed last May 2019 include the League of Women Voters of California, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, Lt. Governor Eleni Kounalakis, Treasurer Fiona Ma, Controller Betty Yee, Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, Supervisor Keith Carson of Alameda County, Hamilton Families, South Bay Jewish Federation, Fresno-Madera-Tulare-Kings Central Labor Council and many others.

And we’re just getting started.

Polling shows that there’s a strong consensus in California in support of SB 50. I am asking for the majority who want to end our housing crisis to speak up, call your elected officials, and let them know where you stand on SB 50. Together, we’ll end our housing shortage by building a pro-housing consensus in California.

Written by

CA State Senator. Urbanist. Environmentalist. Advocate for transit, housing, clean energy, criminal justice reform, health, ending poverty. Democrat. 🏳️‍🌈

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