California Senate Bill 50 Forges On

There was cause for celebration with the demise of Senate Bill 827 back in April 2018. It might have seemed then that California legislators had come to their senses and rejected the idea of dense housing along all rail and bus routes regardless of neighborhood. However, Scott Wiener, author of SB 827, vowed to be back with another version of SB 827, and he has. Wiener introduced Senate Bill 50 in December 2018, and at present, the bill is being considered in the Housing and in the Governance & Finance Committees.

SB 50 does not seem to be experiencing the visceral opposition organizations, cities and counties hurled at SB 827, in spite of the fact that SB 50 is even more problematic than SB 827.

This website discussed the basic downsides of SB 50 in CA Senate Bill 50: SB 827 Redux, on December 9, 2018. Today, March 18, 2019, as the bill makes its way towards Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk, we offer a few comments posted on various on-line venues by a variety of authors.

Heard on the Web

Finally, Happy News from City Hall: Council Motions Oppose Scott Wiener’s Senate Bill 50, CityWatch, March 14, 2019.

“The bottom line is that SB 50 and its local counterparts, like Transit Neighborhood Plans, are fancy real estate scams based on the same spurious free market assumptions and the same beneficiaries: commercial property owners and real estate developers. Furthermore, if adopted, both SB 50 and its local counterparts will fuel gentrification, without ever meeting its three politically-concocted goals: Increasing transit ridership, Increasing affordable housing, Reducing Green House Gases.”

Guest Opinion: SB 50 Undermines Single-family Neighborhoods and Diversity, by Greer Stone and Pat Burt, Palo Alto Online, March 15, 2019.

“Our greatest concern is the implications SB 50 will have for low- and modest-income residents. There is a myth that upzoning (changing zoning to allow increased building density) will lower the price of housing. Supporters argue housing is just an issue of supply and demand. However, according to two recent Chicago and New York City studies, upzoning has the inverse effect and actually leads to increased housing costs. They concluded that when land is rezoned for increased density, it becomes more valuable, and the price of housing and rents rise...

New market-rate housing does not create affordable housing for low- or moderate-income people, and building dense, luxury apartments in single-family neighborhoods will not have trickle-down benefits for those most in need. Rather than being a panacea for our housing crisis, it is a Trojan horse for big developers' profits.”

Support Grows for Bill That Would Legalize More Home Construction Across California, Reason, February 11, 2019.

“This year, Weiner [sic.] is gambling that the new SB 50, which is more modest in the kinds of development it would allow, and which makes several important concessions to powerful interest groups and will garner enough support to make it through the legislature.

Those concessions include a requirement that any developers taking advantage of SB 50's waivers pay a ‘prevailing’ wage, a gift to the state's labor unions.

The waivers could not be used on project sites that had rental housing on them within the last seven years. That provision is in response to critiques of upzoning from tenant advocates, who fear it will be used to tear down existing rental housing and replace it with bigger, more expensive units.

The more modest approach of SB 50 appears to be working so far. The State Building and Construction Trades Council—which represents construction unions at the state level—played a critical role in killing SB 827, but has since endorsed SB 50. Low income housing groups that came out strongly against SB 827 from the beginning are either holding their fire or even offering some muted praise of the bill.”

SB 50 – Opposition to Senate Bill, Westside Regional Alliance of Councils, Proposed Resolution, January 16, 2019.

“Whereas State Senate Bill 50 [Scott Wiener] weaponizes state government code to eviscerate local planning statewide and thereby increases financialization of land use; intensifies inequality; encourages predatory speculative activity; and masks massive wealth transfer by shifting property ownership opportunities away from small owners to corporate investors...”

Scott Wiener’s SB 50 is a WIMBY Bill, by John Mirisch, Vice-Mayor, City of Beverly Hills, Fox and Hounds, January 16, 2019.

“Zev Yaroslavsky, former LA County Supervisor and former LA City Councilmember, astutely noted that state senator Scott Wiener’s SB 827, which would take away local zoning authority from cities and replace it with Sacramento-mandated levels of density in certain areas, was a ‘real estate bill, not a housing bill.’

The exact same assessment should apply to SB50, Wiener’s latest iteration of SB827. And I can prove it.

Yaroslavsky famously took the acronym of the developer-funded YIMBY groups that supported SB827 (‘Yes in by back yard,’ which itself is derived from NIMBY, ‘not in my back yard’ — get it?) and put a new twist on it, describing the bill’s supporters as WIMBYs. That would be the acronym for ‘Wall St. in my back yard’.”

Welcome to Wienerville, by George Wooding, President of Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, Westside Observer, March 2019.

“SB 50 will ruin cherished neighborhoods, severely gentrify working-class areas, significantly worsen housing affordability, and displace thousands of San Franciscans.”

Behind the Headlines, Mayor Pushes Back On SB50, March 8, 2019.

“Palo Alto Mayor Eric Filseth discusses with the Weekly his concerns with Senate Bill 50, which aims to boost California's housing stock, and his own ideas for addressing the state's housing shortage.”

[In this YouTube interview, Mayor Filseth notes the following: SB 50 would take away voters’ ability to control their cities, cities do have a responsibility to balance commercial real estate and housing, and the state legislature would better serve residents by regulating balance between commercial and residential development rather than mandating the number of housing units that must be built.]

In Summary

Senate Bill 827 was summarily dismissed during its first committee hearing, with committee members citing the bill’s aggressive takeover of local land use planning in transit-rich areas. Senate Bill 50 not only takes over land use planning around transit-rich areas, but also around job-rich areas with or without transit. However, SB 50 prominently appeases builders by mandating prevailing wages and appeases affordable housing advocates by supposedly adding more protections for existing tenants. We will see whether legislative committees are really concerned about aggressive takeover of land use planning, as they claimed to be in the case of SB 827, or they are more concerned about keeping powerful groups happy.

Meanwhile, whether or not developers, unions, and housing and renters’ advocates benefit from SB 50, remains to be seen. Cost of housing will not decrease if indeed cost has more to do with diminishing availability of land than increasing availability of housing units. The building-up-not-out strategy of current planners increases costs and prices, since costs increase with building height. Concessions to unions will increase prices by increasing labor costs. Concessions to affordable-housing advocates will shift prices from low-income to high-income units – or from rents to taxes – but will not decrease prices overall.

In Graphics: Welcome to Wienerville

Thank you to a Nine-County Coalition participant for sending graphics that offer a perfect visualization of the results of SB 50: Welcome to Wienerville.