Key California Housing Bill’s Chances of Passing Just Improved Dramatically

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

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State  Sen. Scott Wiener’s bill to clear a path for denser housing around public transit and in wealthy suburbs got a big push forward when the Senate’s leader steered it out of the committee where it stalled last year.

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, said she moved SB50 out of the Appropriations Committee, whose chairman, Democratic Sen. Anthony Portantino, blocked it in 2019 and gave a frosty reception to the amended version that Wiener is now proposing.

Atkins sent the bill to the Rules Committee, where it could advance directly to a Senate floor vote before a deadline for passage at the end of the month. She said the decision would give Wiener, D-San Francisco, more time to negotiate with the bill’s opponents, who say it takes away local governments’ control over how their communities develop.

“While many communities still have clear concerns about SB50, our affordable housing crisis demands we make every attempt to reach agreement on potential solutions,” Atkins said in a statement.

Wiener introduced amendments this month that would allow cities to circumvent some of SB50’s major provisions by coming up with their own plans to increase housing. Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge (Los Angeles County), said Wiener did not consult him before proposing the changes and called the amended measure “more theater than an implementable plan to truly engender broad support.”

Key elements of the bill remain intact: It would raise height limits around transit lines, allow denser development in high-income areas and effectively open up the entire state to multifamily housing.

By moving SB50 out of Portantino’s committee, which would have had to advance the measure by the end of next week, Atkins circumvented a potentially intractable roadblock. She and other Capitol leaders took a similar strategy last year during a bitter fight over a bill to tighten California’s rules on police use of force, pulling civil liberties advocates and law enforcement groups into discussions that eventually produced a successful compromise.

Atkins and Gov. Gavin Newsom have expressed their commitment to pass SB50 in some form this year to help California boost construction and confront its housing shortage. It still must get out of the Senate before the end of January to stay alive, but Wiener has said he is optimistic that he has the votes. It would then have to be approved by the Assembly before the end of August.

Wiener and Portantino both declined to comment on Atkins’ move.

Under the bill, local governments in counties with more than 600,000 people would have to allow buildings at least four stories tall within a half-mile of a transit stop and five stories within a quarter-mile, provided that those projects meet other local design standards. Five Bay Area counties — San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, and San Mateo — meet that population threshold.

The measure would also remove density limits and reduce parking requirements within a quarter-mile of stops on bus lines with frequent service and in high-income census tracts with lots of jobs and good schools, regardless of their proximity to transit.

In smaller counties, including Marin, Sonoma, Solano, and Napa, cities with more than 50,000 people would have to allow up to 15 extra feet of height for buildings within a half-mile of transit stops.

Wiener has now delayed the date that the measure would go into effect by two years — longer for neighborhoods at risk of gentrification — giving communities extra time to come up with plans that could accommodate the amount of new housing that SB50 would require.

The League of California Cities, which opposed the bill last year, says Wiener’s amended measure doesn’t have enough information about the alternative planning process. Without those details, the group said, it’s unclear whether cities would have their needed flexibility.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle

Category: Economic News