Scott Wiener Introduces SB 50 2.0

One of the most contentious bills of the last session is back, albeit with some changes. Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced amendments to SB 50 on Monday, Jan. 6. The bill aims to dramatically increase housing density across the state, but the current iteration will allow local governments more flexibility.

Cities and counties pushed back last year against SB 50’s threat to usurp local power and eliminate residential zoning. The bill was ultimately held up in committee.

The crux of SB 50 — allowing multifamily housing near transit hubs — remains intact. But under the new proposal, cities and counties could create their own plans for increasing housing as long as the goals of SB 50 are still being met.

“New changes to Senate Bill 50 introduced Monday would give cities and counties two years to develop plans to boost development in their communities before state mandates for greater housing density take effect,” the Los Angeles Times’ Liam Dillon reports. Those plans would be subject to review by the state Department of Housing and Community Development and the Governor's Office of Planning and Research.

“Under SB 50, communities across California would see increased housing growth with the greatest effects expected in Los Angeles, the Bay Area, Silicon Valley and other densely populated areas. Lower-density neighborhoods would be forced to allow four- to five-story apartment buildings near rail lines, and smaller apartments and townhomes in wealthy areas near job centers. Increases to building heights and densities would be less dramatic in smaller counties, including Marin, Sonoma and Santa Barbara, and neighborhoods across the state at risk of gentrification will have five years — rather than two — to develop their own development blueprints.”

The goal is to make this legislation more palatable for local governments. It remains to be seen whether Wiener can achieve that objective. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors continues to oppose the bill. Senator Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge), who shelved the bill last year, says SB 50 still fails to address the need for affordable housing. (The bill does include a provision giving low-income residents priority for housing that is built.)

Senate President Toni Atkins has signaled a desire to see SB 50 passed, however. Wiener says it has far more momentum this time around.

The bill is constrained by a short timetable. SB 50 must pass the Senate by Jan. 31.

Learn more about the bill at KQED and read this excellent tweet thread on the amendments from Liam Dillon.