Capitol Alert

High-profile California housing bill dies without a vote: ‘I’m deeply disappointed’

The highest-profile bill moving through the California Legislature aimed at addressing the state’s housing crisis has effectively been killed for the rest of the year.

Proposed by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, Senate Bill 50 would have rewritten zoning laws and forced local governments to allow taller apartment buildings and other multi-family complex near transit areas and job centers.

Gov. Gavin Newsom — who urged the Legislature to deliver a bill that tackles the state’s housing shortage — released a statement saying he was “disappointed by the committee’s decision.”

“The cost of housing — both for homeowners and renters — is the defining quality-of-life concern for people across this state,” Newsom said. “California must address the housing supply shortage head on, and we need to be able to use every tool in the toolkit to address this systemic crisis.”

The legislation touched a nerve for local government officials who said that the bill would override their local zoning restrictions and housing plans. It also worried some housing advocates, who feared that any new construction in urban centers would displace longtime residents.

State Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, announced in a Thursday budget hearing that he would make Wiener’s proposal a “two-year bill.” While SB 50 could still get amended, it won’t be considered again until January 2020, at the start of a new legislative session.

“I don’t think this particular effort was ready to go to the floor,” said Portantino, who chairs the committee. “Making it a two-year bill allows him to continue to work on an issue that, I think, there are challenges with it. There are legitimate questions that need to be asked.”

In a statement, Wiener echoed Newsom, calling the decision “deeply disappointing.” But he continued that he is “100 percent committed” to moving the legislation forward.

“We need to do things differently when it comes to housing,” Wiener wrote. “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.”

SB 50 backers argued the bill would create more housing desperately needed in California and would reduce commuting times for workers who could now live along transportation and employment corridors.

The bill passed two Senate committee hearings this year on bipartisan vote before the Senate Appropriations Committee tabled it.

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Bryan Anderson is a political reporter for The Bee. He covers the California Legislature and reports on wildfires and transportation. He also hosts The Bee’s “California Nation” podcast.
Hannah Wiley joined The Bee as a legislative reporter in 2019. She produces the morning newsletter for Capitol Alert and previously reported on immigration, education and criminal justice. She’s a Chicago-area native and a graduate of Saint Louis University and Northwestern.