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California fails to pass contentious S.B. 50 housing bill

Third Time's Not the Charm

California fails to pass contentious S.B. 50 housing bill

Despite a state senator's repeated efforts, the divisive SB50 won't be the solution to California's housing crisis. (Courtesy Doc Searls via Flickr)

For the third year in a row, a controversial bill to increase home building in California has failed to win approval in the state Senate, according to the Los Angeles Times. Senate Bill 50 was intended to help curb the housing shortage and cut greenhouse gas emissions from cars while boosting density in developed areas near transit hubs. But vocal opposition over gentrification, affordable housing, and of course, up-zoning changes in wealthier neighborhoods, trumped all of those benefits. 

Only three votes stood in the way of the measure passing in the state Senate last week. That same number of votes was missing last year when Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who authored the bill back in 2018, reintroduced it on the senator floor. With support from California’s Governor Gavin Newsom in his ongoing promise to fix the state’s housing crisis, it seemed like this year would Wiener’s winning attempt. But S.B. 50 failed again.

The measure couldn’t pass all these years, according to the senate opponents, because S.B. 50 failed to adequately address the state’s growing need for affordable housing. The bill would have allowed developers to build more mid-rise apartments near mass transit and job centers in the state’s most populous cities. But community advocates for low-income areas worried that the idea would eventually out-price people from those neighborhoods, while activists in suburban areas argued against densification.

Each year that Weiner introduced the bill back into the conversation, he revamped it with changes intended to address the concerns raised in previous attempts. Despite efforts to appease all sides and a move to allow local governments the chance to develop their own sets of standards similar to Senate Bill 50, the proposal failed for the final time. The L.A. Times reported a major divide in votes between lawmakers in metropolitan Los Angeles and the rest of the state. Nine local senators voted no or abstained from the vote while only one voted yes. 

Similar to the split in the senate, ordinary Californians appear conflicted over the bill too. Senator president pro tem Toni Atkins wrote on Twitter that although the bill failed, she will work towards producing another piece of legislation that will pass this year.