Controversial Housing Transit Bill SB 50 Fails, Again

State Sen. Scott Wiener's SB 50 is no more but legislators are adamant that a major housing production bill will pass this year.

State Sen. Scott Wiener’s controversial housing transit bill died a final death Thursday morning.

Senate Bill 50 fell short of passing the California Senate by three votes, a narrow loss for the embattled legislation. Wiener put forward the bill in 2018 after a similar bill, Senate Bill 827 failed earlier that year. But legislators like Senate President Pro Temp Toni Atkins and Gov. Gavin Newsom have promised that some form of a housing production bill will succeed this year.

“While I’m obviously very disappointed at the result today, I’m getting up and brushing myself off,” Wiener said at a press conference Thursday. “We have to just move forward because it isn’t about any one of us, it’s about the future of California.”

The controversial legislation proposed sweeping changes to housing policy by requiring dense development near transit and ending single-family zoning restrictions across the state. It has several enthusiastic supporters, namely the California YIMBYs, but also detractors — including the San Francisco Board of Supervisors —concerned with neighborhood changes from suburban character to expediting displacement in cities.

SB 50’s latest iteration gave cities two years to come up with their own tailored plans, so long as they matched the same housing goals put forward by the bill. “Sensitive communities,” like Bayview Hunters Point and Chinatown in San Francisco, would have three more years to do the same. But anti-displacement groups felt those communities would still bear the burden and should have been at the table from the beginning.

“It gets at the much-needed lack of housing built by the wealthiest towns in California but it unnecessarily dragnets communities at the frontlines of displacement,” said Jackie Fielder, Wiener’s re-election challenger who instead proposes a $100 billion emergency housing fund. “We need density not just for density’s sake but we need density for equity’s sake.”

Wiener acknowledged that there was more work to be done on SB 50, particularly around requiring more affordable housing, but that he had hoped to do it in the Assembly. Instead, he’ll re-introduce another version of the bill during the current legislative session, which could still mean something along the lines of SB 50 will also take effect next year.

“One of our goals is to not have the Bay Area’s experience replicated in other parts of the state,” Wiener said. “Sometimes the situation has to get so bad that it compels fundamental change. If it were a bill that didn’t do very much, it probably wouldn’t have drawn the excitement or opposition it did.”

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