Transit-Friendly Housing Bill Shelved in California

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – In another setback for groups fighting to stem California’s housing crisis, a proposal meant to spur new apartments near popular transit centers died silently in committee Thursday. 

Minutes before a scheduled vote, the chair of the state Senate Appropriations Committee designated Senate Bill 50 as a “two-year bill,” and effectively sidelined it until January.

The measure by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, sought to remove local control over certain housing decisions by implementing statewide standards that would greenlight four-and-five-story apartment buildings near busy rail and bus stations. Municipalities, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, argued SB 50 was a “one-size-fits-all” approach that could change the character of California cities.

For the second consecutive year, Wiener’s attempt to bite into California’s estimated 3.5 million-home-shortage – equal to the deficit in the other 49 states combined – was flattened in the Senate.

“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,” a disappointed Wiener said in a statement. “We need to do things differently when it comes to housing.”

The controversial decision to deny the closely watched bill a vote came without elaboration from the all-important committee: Thursday was the deadline for more than 1,000 bills in both the Senate and Assembly to pass financial muster in a biannual clearing of what’s referred to as the “suspense file.”

Wiener’s housing bill cleared two committees this spring with bipartisan support and was sponsored by 17 lawmakers. Other backers included the California Chamber of Commerce, Natural Resources Defense Council and the mayors of San Jose, Oakland and Sacramento.  

But much like last year, lawmakers on the committee were wary of taking control over housing decisions from their home districts and prevented a floor vote.  

Wiener said he was disappointed in the decision but added that “at some point, we will need to make the hard political choices necessary for California to have a bright housing future.”

Governor Gavin Newsom blasted the decision to punt the bill to 2020.

“I am disappointed by the committee’s decision. The cost of housing – both for homeowners and renters – is the defining quality-of-life concern for people across this state. Housing costs and rising rents threaten to erode our state’s long-term prosperity,” Newsom said in a statement.

He noted his efforts to do something about the housing crisis and urged lawmakers to act as well. “California must address the housing supply shortage head on, and we need to be able to use every tool in the toolkit to address this systemic crisis,” he said. “In our proposed budget, we put forth a series of intensive solutions to jump-start production and incentivize cities to do the right thing. But developing housing around transit must also be part of the solution, and today’s developments can’t end or stall that critical conversation.”

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