California Senate rejects transit density bill SB 50

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Another year another defeat for a controversial proposal in the California legislature that would have rolled back zoning requirements in urban areas around transit.

Senate Bill 50 was aimed at scaling back local zoning rules that limit the density of housing near transit lines and job centers. In a Senate vote this afternoon, the bill fell three votes short of the 21 it needed to advance to the State Assembly.

There are reports that the bill could return for reconsideration Thursday. But the clock is ticking for Wiener to collect votes. Under the Legislature’s rules, the bill would need to clear the Senate by Friday in order to advance to the Assembly.

Speaking on the Senate floor today, Wiener argued that restrictions on the scale of new buildings imposed by cities and counties in the last 50 years have exacerbated the state’s affordable housing shortage and smog-producingurban sprawl.

“We have a policy in California that it’s not a priority to have enough housing for those who need it,” said Wiener. “Restrictive zoning puts a hard cap on our ability to get out of this housing crisis.”

Allowing developers to construct larger apartment buildings in areas already well-served by transit, argued Wiener, would also give more people alternatives to driving.

In its current form, SB 50 would reduce minimum parking requirements and density restrictions applied to housing developments near train stations, bus stops with frequent service, and areas with a high number of jobs. Cities would also have to allow up to four units on lots now exclusively reserved for single-family homes.

Local governments would have until 2023 to come up with their own plans to add more housing units and decrease transportation emissions—or abide by the rules laid out in the bill.

In Los Angeles, where the bill could impact zoning rules for nearly half the city’s land, the City Council voted unanimously last year to oppose SB 50. Echoing criticisms from affordable housing advocates, local leaders argued that the bill did not do enough to address the needs of low-income renters who would likely be unable to afford newly built apartments without affordability requirements.

The bill has since been amended, and Wiener said Wednesday that affordability requirements would be added in the coming months. He also emphasized that the bill includes demolition protections to avoid renter displacement—and that Los Angeles would be effectively exempted from many of SB 50’s provisions due to existing incentives for affordable housing development near transit.

“We’re not all the way on this bill, but we’ll get there,” he said.

Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) said promises of future affordability measures and anti-gentrification stipulations already added weren’t enough to address the concerns of both renters and homeowners in areas impacted by redlining and other segregationist policies.

“Single-family homeowners are not a monolithic group,” said Mitchell, pointing out that many of the South LA residents she represents own their homes. “We have single-family homeowners that are holding on by their fingernails.”

Wiener spokesperson Catie Stewart says the senator hasn’t “figured out next steps yet” but is “committed to addressing the housing crisis.”

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