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California Bill Calling For Denser Housing Around Jobs And Transit Fails In Final Senate Vote

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio
A condo building under construction in Midtown Sacramento.

Updated 3:50 p.m.

A bold proposal to boost California’s housing production failed in its final vote in the state Senate on Thursday, effectively shelving it for the year. 

Senate Bill 50, which called for overriding local zoning rules to encourage apartment construction in cities and counties, fell three senate votes short of the 21 needed to advance to the Assembly. 

It was the second consecutive day of votes on the bill, which supporters championed as an answer to the state’s severe housing shortage. Critics said the measure would upend suburban, single-family home neighborhoods by allowing dense, towering apartment buildings. Others said the bill would gentrify working-class communities and displace existing residents. 

The bill’s author, Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco, said on Twitter that "I remain fully committed to advancing a strong housing production bill this year. Stay tuned.”

In a written statement, Wiener called today’s action “a huge missed opportunity to take meaningful and serious step to address California’s massive and debilitating housing shortage.”

Democratic Senate pro tem Toni Atkins of San Diego, who supported the bill, told her colleagues on the Senate floor after the second failed vote that "This is not the end of the story." 

“I want to personally commit to each and every one of you, to the people of California, that a housing production bill to help alleviate our housing crisis, will happen this year," she said. "A housing production bill will succeed this year.”

Opponents of SB 50 maintained the bill didn’t go far enough in mandating affordable housing. It included requirements that each new development would have to designate between 15 percent and 25 percent of its total units as affordable for low-income families. 

On Thursday, critics of the bill said its failure offers a chance to tackle the root cause of California’s housing crisis: the lack of affordable homes.

“The defeat of SB 50 really is a victory for affordable housing, one that offers opportunity for more meaningful and effective action on California’s homelessness crisis,” René Christian Moya, director of Housing Is A Human Right, said in a written statement. “We are ready and willing to work with city and state legislators, including Senator Wiener, on crafting a workable housing production plan that directly addresses the affordability crisis while taking seriously the displacement crisis in our cities.”

A coalition of groups that opposed SB 50, including the Alliance for Community Transit-Los Angeles, PolicyLink and the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said the bill included many improvements, but wasn’t “bold enough or targeted enough to address the affordable housing needs of low-income Californians.”

“We reject the status quo, but we also reject the notion that the low-income communities and communities of color most harmed by the planning and zoning decisions of the past should be forced to accept new policies that fall short of true equity and inclusion,” the group, called the Equity Advocates, said in a statement. 

Supporters, such as California YIMBY, said they won’t stop pushing for more housing in California. YIMBY stands for ‘Yes In My Backyard,’ a response to slow-growth ‘NIMBY’ groups, or ‘Not In My Backyard,’ that have opposed new housing development in the state.

“California YIMBY calls upon our allies and supporters to continue the fight for broad-based housing affordability, and to help elect pro-housing candidates in every jurisdiction in the state — and every seat in the legislature,” California YIMBY President and CEO Brian Hanlon said in a written statement.

Copyright 2020 Capital Public Radio