BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
The state Senate yesterday killed Senate Bill 50, the controversial bill that would have overridden local zoning laws to let developers build multi-story apartment buildings.
The final vote was 18 in favor and 15 against. It needed three more votes to reach 21, the magic number needed for passage in the 40-member Senate, which would send it to the Assembly.
The vote was the same on Wednesday, but senators gave the bill’s author, Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco, time to find additional votes in order to pass the bill. He wasn’t able to do so.
SB50 was meant to address an estimated shortage of 3.5 million homes that has driven up rents and contributed to a growing homelessness problem. It had support from unions, developers, tech companies and housing advocates.
Wiener had changed the measure to give local governments two years to come up with their own housing plans. If those plans had passed muster, the cities would have been exempted from SB50’s requirements.
SB50 was opposed by city governments on the Peninsula and elsewhere in the state. On the Peninsula, the fear was that SB50 would result in an onslaught of housing without adequate parking, and that the new developments wouldn’t provide funding for infrastructure, such as schools, roads, water and sewer lines. In Southern California, cities opposed the bill because residents feared they would lose their single-family homes in the rush to build new apartment buildings.
Another flaw in SB50, according to opponents, was that it didn’t require enough affordable housing for lower- and middle-income residents.
The bill required for low-income housing to be built as part of projects that come forward as a result of SB50. Buildings with 21 to 200 homes would have to set aside 15% of their units for people with low incomes. The larger the building, the more units that would have to be set aside, up to 25%. Residents who live within a half-mile of the development would have gotten priority for a portion of the low-income housing in a new project.
Redwood City Councilwoman Shelly Masur said she thought the 15-25% low income portion of the bill was a good addition by Wiener.
Masur acknowledged that the bill would not “solve the housing crisis, but was a step in the right direction.”
Masur, along with other proponents of the bill, expressed disappointment in the bill not passing.
“Clearly, it was (senators from) wealthy suburbs that killed the bill,” Palo Alto Mayor Adrian Fine said. “I think that says something about equity issues in housing.”
Wait for ‘gut and amend’
Following the failure of the bill, Wiener tweeted that he introduced two placeholder bills for SB50, which means generic bills are introduced and then go through the “gut and amend” process, where the initial contents of the bill are removed entirely and are replaced with new language, typically about a completely different topic.
Wiener also tweeted that he remains “fully committed to advancing a strong housing production bill this year.”
But Livable California, a slow-growth group that opposed SB50, said that a housing production is being taken care of by cities.
“We can’t let him waste 2020,” an email from the group yesterday said. “We’ve tried to educate Sen. Wiener that California cities are racing forward on housing approvals, and very few populous areas still lag on their state-required housing goals.”
“I’m thrilled that the senators recognized that a bad bill is a bad bill,” Los Altos councilwoman Anita Enander said about yesterday’s failure.
Cities approving more homes than before
Enander said her city’s addition of 226 homes last year is a marked improvement, considering that about five years ago, the city only had 1,500 apartments. Between 2014 and 2019, Los Altos has permitted 686 homes, according to a calculation done by the Post using city numbers for 2019 and state housing numbers for 2014-2018.
Palo Alto, which has about two times the population of Los Altos, has approved 643 homes in the same five-year period.
Between 2014 and 2019:
• Menlo Park has granted permits for the construction of 1,134 homes;
• Redwood City has permitted 2,457;
• Mountain View has permitted 4,012;
• San Carlos has permitted 523;
• Belmont has permitted 512.
Fine, the Palo Alto mayor, said he is open to work on “everything and anything” to increase the production of homes in Palo Alto, saying that what needs to happen is buy-in from his colleagues.
State Sen. Jerry Hill, the Democrat who represents the mid-Peninsula, voted against the bill yesterday, just as he did on Wednesday.
Hill said Wednesday that he was against SB50 because the rules cities must follow under SB50 weren’t clear.
“We need clearer parameters on the housing creation required for local governments and our communities, and on the flexibility allowed to local governments to locate housing where it works best for our communities,” Hill said in an email to the Post.
“We also need a realistic view of the parking needs created by new housing. To require none ignores reality and worsens existing parking shortfalls in the very transit corridors where the legislation seeks to foster new housing,” Hill said. “We should not obligate our local governments and communities to fulfill commitments and undertake solutions that are unclear — that only sets all of us up for failure and promises to make the current crisis worse.”
Hill added in his statement that he hopes that SB50 will be reintroduced so it can “undergo the full legislative process,” and get wider support.
Newsom isn’t giving up
Gov. Gavin Newsom and Senate President Toni Atkins said yesterday legislation that increases housing production will be passed this year.
“We’re going to get something big done this calendar year, this legislative session,” Newsom told reporters. “We are going to continue to work aggressively to address production in this state.”