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California Senate deals final blow to SB 50

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The legislation returned for reconsideration today, and failed to pass

Under SB 50, cities would also have to allow up to four units on lots now exclusively reserved for single-family homes.
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The California Senate this morning reaffirmed its position against Senate Bill 50, ending an often-contentious two-year debate on whether to change zoning requirements in urban areas around transit.

Senate Bill 50 was aimed at scaling back local zoning rules that limit the density of housing near transit lines and job centers. After senators rejected the bill Wednesday evening, it returned for reconsideration today—and was once again defeated.

The bill was rejected 18-15 on Thursday, falling short of the 21 votes it needed to advance to the State Assembly. Several members abstained from votes during both days of debate.

Under the Legislature’s rules, SB 50 needed to clear the Senate by Friday in order to advance to the Assembly.

“This is not the end of this story,” said Sen. Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), who supported the bill, when she made remarks after the vote Thursday. “Now it is time for all sides to step up... Everyone will need to get ready to come to the table. A housing production bill will succeed this year.”

Speaking Wednesday on the Senate floor, Wiener argued that restrictions on the scale of new buildings imposed by cities and counties in the last 50 years have exacerbated the state’s affordable housing shortage and smog-producing urban sprawl.

“We have a policy in California that it’s not a priority to have enough housing for those who need it,” said Wiener. “Restrictive zoning puts a hard cap on our ability to get out of this housing crisis.”

Allowing developers to construct larger apartment buildings in areas already well-served by transit, argued Wiener, would also give more people alternatives to driving.

SB 50 would have reduced minimum parking requirements and density restrictions applied to housing developments near train stations, bus stops with frequent service, and areas with a high number of jobs. Cities would also have been allowed up to four units on lots now exclusively reserved for single-family homes.

Local governments would have had until 2023 to come up with their own plans to add more housing units and decrease transportation emissions—or abide by the rules laid out in the bill.

In Los Angeles, where the bill would have impacted zoning rules for nearly half the city’s land, the City Council voted unanimously last year to oppose SB 50. Echoing criticisms from affordable housing advocates, local leaders argued that the bill did not do enough to address the needs of low-income renters who would likely be unable to afford newly built apartments without affordability requirements.

The bill was later amended, and Wiener said Wednesday that he intended to add more affordability requirements in the coming months. He also emphasized that the bill included demolition protections to avoid renter displacement—and that Los Angeles would be effectively exempted from many of SB 50’s provisions due to existing incentives for affordable housing development near transit.

“We’re not all the way on this bill, but we’ll get there,” he said.

But Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) said promises of future affordability measures and anti-gentrification stipulations already added to the bill weren’t enough to address the concerns of both renters and homeowners in areas impacted by redlining and other segregationist policies.

“Single-family homeowners are not a monolithic group,” said Mitchell, pointing out that many of the South LA residents she represents own their homes. “We have single-family homeowners that are holding on by their fingernails.”

On Wednesday, Wiener spokesperson Catie Stewart says the senator hasn’t “figured out next steps yet” but is “committed to addressing the housing crisis.”