Wiener’s SB 50 Housing Bill Postponed Until 2020

San Francisco supervisors agreed the legislation needed major amending, as it threatened to upzone most of the city.

A look at Noe Valley, Bernal Heights and parts of the Bayview. (Photo by Kevin N. Hume)

State Sen. Scott Wiener’s controversial housing bill that would have upzoned most of San Francisco has been postponed until 2020, California lawmakers decided on Thursday.

A Senate committee announced that SB 50 would not come up for a vote until January, halting the momentum it had been gathering since 2018, first as SB 827. The bill would have instituted zoning changes across the state, mandating denser housing near “job-rich” areas and transit hubs. Like the previous bill version, it was expected to apply to most of San Francisco, which opponents — including the Board of Supervisors — said would have undermined local control and led to even more displacement. 

Given the fierce debate over SB 50, it’s unsurprising that some wanted more time to discuss or amend it before it would come up for a vote. Still, Wiener said in a statement that he was “deeply disappointed” in the delay and expressed frustration over slow-moving action amid a housing crisis and 

“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,” Wiener said. “We need to do things differently when it comes to housing. We’re either serious about solving this crisis, or we aren’t. At some point, we will need to make the hard political choices necessary for California to have a bright housing future.”

Wiener added that he is “one hundred percent committed” to pushing the bill forward. The bill did well in two other committee hearings, receiving just one vote in opposition each time, and had 17 bipartisan co-authors. 

San Francisco’s local leaders, however, were less than enthused and expressed deep concern over the bill’s details, particularly its impact on neighborhoods already experiencing gentrification. SB 50’s improvement from SB 827 included a delay on zoning requirements for “sensitive communities” until 2025. Supervisors approved a resolution that opposed SB 50, unless amended, on April 9 that Mayor London Breed — a supporter of the bill — returned unsigned. 

“I hope State Senator Wiener uses this additional time to address the serious concerns many have with SB 50. While recent amendments carved out the suburbs and some of the least dense parts of the state, they did not address the concerns we have here in San Francisco,” Mar said in a statement on Thursday, citing affordability, transportation, displacement, and a community process. “Going forward, I hope we can work together to address our affordability crisis in ways that prioritize the needs of our communities, not developers’ bottom lines.”

Supervisor Vallie Brown advocated for another track: suggesting specific amendments the city wanted to see or voicing support for aspects like inclusionary housing requirements. Now, they have more time to put those together.

“We should be working with him to get this right,” Brown said in April, referring to Wiener. “We cannot continue to allow input and language like we don’t want any more people to live here. This is the first legislation to seriously take on this housing crisis.”

The postponement of SB 50 is only the latest recent setback for Wiener. Last week, San Francisco supervisors appeared unenthusiastic in enforcing Senate Bill 1045, which would expand the city’s ability to lock up people suffering from mental illness and substance use. San Francisco was one of three counties approved by Sacramento to move forward with the change in conservatorship laws, but Los Angeles and San Diego have so far declined to move forward. If San Francisco votes against it, which right now seems likely, SB 1045 will largely be considered a failure. 

But Wiener is no stranger to reintroducing legislation he’s adamant about passing. After several legislative attempts and 15 years of outcry, the Cow Palace agreed to end gun shows on the state-owned venue. Unsurprisingly, he’s turning the same legislation that forced their hand into a topic beyond gun violence: building more housing on its mostly open 68 acres.

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