News and Commentary

CA Democrat Revives Housing Bill That Would End Most Single-Family Zoning In The State
Senator Scott Wiener speaks at the Lambda Legal 2018 West Coast Liberty Awards at the SLS Hotel on June 7, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California.
Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for Lambda Legal

Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) was shouted down by anti-gentrification advocates on Tuesday as he re-introduced a controversial housing bill that would eliminate single-family home zoning across most of California.

Wiener, lead author of Senate Bill 50, has until the end of this month to advance a revamped version to the Senate floor or it dies. He said he is “cautiously optimistic about the bill’s prospects” after two previous failed attempts for approval. The measure has been held in committee since last spring.

The primary objectives of SB 50 include increasing density near public transit and in single-family neighborhoods. Wiener claims California faces a 3.5 million home shortage, arguing that the proposed law is necessary to address issues like housing affordability, homelessness, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by making residents less reliant on cars. Critics have described the bill as a subsidy and giveaway to developers.

“We have a terrible housing crisis here in California, and we see the effects every day,” Wiener said. “People are being pushed into poverty, and people are being pushed out of California, and people are being pushed into multi-hour commutes.”

“We want to make sure that as we build those homes that we definitely need, we aren’t building sprawled,” he said.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the updated legislation still contains language that “would essentially eliminate single-family zoning in California, except in small coastal communities and areas at high risk of fire.”

However, the Los Angeles Times reports significant revisions to the bill “aim to undercut a key argument made by opponents: that local governments – not the state – should have control over development in their communities.”

More from the L.A. Times:

The new version of the bill would allow cities and counties to come up with their own plans to increase growth around transit and jobs as long as they boost density to the level required under SB 50. For example, a city could zone for six-story apartment complexes on a street next to a rail station and four-story complexes one street over rather than allowing five-story buildings on both. The provision allowing fourplexes on single-family parcels would apply without exception. …

Still, like the existing state rules, SB 50 gives California housing officials the final say in determining whether local proposals meet the goals outlined in the bill. If city and county efforts are rejected, state density requirements would take effect. …

As it stands, Wiener’s bill would require projects larger than 10 units to contribute funding or space for low-income housing. Developers who hope to take advantage of SB 50 also would be prohibited from demolishing homes on properties where tenants have lived for at least seven years. Another change introduced Monday would give low-income residents living in neighborhoods near projects built under SB 50 a preference in moving into the new units. The senator says he remains in negotiations with a coalition of groups representing low-income communities about further changes to the bill.

Last year, The Times reported that Sen. Wiener “intended for his bill to push high-income neighborhoods zoned only for single-family homes to make room for apartments as redress for historical wrongs.”

Sen. Nancy Skinner, a Democrat representing the East Bay Area who co-authored SB 50, said single-family zoning policies were deliberately crafted to exclude people “for economic and race reasons.”

“We believe that SB 50 will help us achieve our vision for a California for everyone where nobody is shackled by the circumstances of their birth or bad luck,” said Brian Hanlon, president and CEO of a pro-development organization called California YIMBY, which is co-sponsoring the measure. He told the Sacramento Bee that the legislation would “help undo a century of race and class segregation.”

If the state Senate approves SB 50 by the January 31 deadline, the proposal will advance to the Assembly where it could sit for several months.

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The Daily Wire   >  Read   >  CA Democrat Revives Housing Bill That Would End Most Single-Family Zoning In The State