Advocates Scramble to Keep Transit Housing Bill Active

Anti-density/NIMBY politician maneuvers to put S.B. 50 on ice

Hayward, California. Image: Wikimedia Commons
Hayward, California. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Senator Scott Wiener’s Transit Housing Bill, S.B. 50, became the victim of politicking yesterday after the Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee announced it will become a “two-year bill,” meaning it will not be eligible for a vote in January. The bill was racking up endorsements before this maneuver.

San Francisco’s Wiener issued the following statement:

While I’m deeply disappointed that the Chair of the Appropriations Committee has decided to postpone S.B. 50 until 2020 – since we have a housing crisis right now – we are one hundred percent committed to moving the legislation forward. California faces a 3.5 million home shortage – equal to the combined housing shortage of the other 49 states – and the status quo isn’t working. California’s failed housing policy is pushing people into homelessness, poverty, and two-hour commutes, is pushing working families out of their communities and out of the state entirely, and is undermining California’s climate goals. We need to do things differently when it comes to housing. 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.

A spokesman in Wiener’s office said they are continuing to look for a path forward this year.

The San Francisco Housing Action Coalition’s Todd David put together this action item:

As you can imagine, politics can be tricky and there are twists and turns we can’t avoid. While we believed the bill was done for the year this morning, the bill still has a path forward in 2019, but there is no time to waste. We have two asks.

1. Please call Senator Toni Atkins’s Sacramento office at (916) 651-4039. If you have a network in San Diego, please forward this email and ask them to make calls.
– Tell her office that you want her to show her leadership to ensure S.B. 50 is voted on by the State Senate this legislative session.

2. Please call Senator Anthony Portantino’s Sacramento office at (916) 651-4025
– Tell his office that you’re angry about his abuse of power and that a vote for S.B. 50 should have happened in Appropriations.

The next 48 hours will determine S.B. 50’s fate in 2019.  Please make your phone calls now!

S.B. 50 is a revamped bill to address affordable housing concerns with Wiener’s previous attempt to up-zone areas around transit, S.B. 827. As the SF Chronicle pointed out, these bills often invite disingenuous attacks by people who have single-family homes and simply don’t want more density where they live.

Not that there aren’t sincere people trying to make the bill better and improve the housing situation in California. From Edie Irons at TransForm, which hasn’t taken a position on S.B. 50:

We urgently need more homes, especially affordable ones, near transit and jobs. We’ll keep analyzing the bill’s impacts and working with allies on both sides of the issue, as well as Senator Wiener’s office, to make it as balanced and effective as possible.

…there are still many groundbreaking housing bills that are alive and well in this legislative session. These include critical tenant protections that can immediately help stop the bleeding while we figure out how to increase housing production, like Just Cause eviction protections and anti-rent gouging protections for most rental properties in the state (A.B. 1481 and A.B. 1482), plus a tenant’s right to organize bill (S.B. 529), and rental assistance and legal aid for people facing eviction (S.B. 18), to name just a few. Hopefully the advocates who’ve been single-mindedly focused on S.B. 50 might put some muscle behind these other important bills.

Meanwhile, NBC News reports that CO2 levels are now at their highest levels in over 3 million years. And a recent report indicates that San Francisco’s homeless population continues to swell, at an estimated 8,000 people.

  • sf in sf

    Yes, people should call Senator Atkins and ask her to move SB 50 to a floor vote – (916) 651-4039
    I’m also worried for the future of just cause and rent cap (AB 1481 and 1482) without SB 50. These were meant to be a package deal, coming out of the regional CASA committee. They were already going to be hard bills, and it’s even harder without the production piece, which was SB 50.

  • Pamela Rappel

    Here is what I would like to have addressed. We have just come off a very long drought. We have been bombarded with requests and then threats to cut back our water usage and have seen our water bill go up and up. How does tearing down a home with two toilets and replacing it with a building that has 6 or 8 make sense? And the increase in the number of showers, dish washers, laundry facilities etc…where will the water come from? And electrictiy? The DWP already has problems suppling our city with power. During peak usage they beg us to “be responsible”. How is the city being responsible when they want to add many times the current amount of users to an already stressed infrastucture. Will rolling black outs become the norm? And what about the idea that many of these will be built around public transit and decrease our carbon foot print. LA public transportation is not convenient and it is slow. Even with traffic many routes take much longer than driving yourself. Show me some planning to address these issues and then let’s make a city planning decsion based on what is the best balance.

  • Flatlander

    Residential water is a made-up issue. It accounts for about 10 percent of the state’s water use. We could easily accommodate new residents if we stopped exporting rice and alfalfa-raised beef to places that are better suited to grow it for themselves anyway.

    Further, those homes with 6-8 toilets use way, way less water than a suburban house with a big green lawn.

  • Pamela Rappel

    Is your point that there is plenty of water but we are wasting it? If so you are agreeing with me that we need a comprehensive plan that takes into account how our resources are being used before we can make good decisions on what will be available to us in the future.

  • crazyvag

    I think the point is that of all the water usage in California, 80 (number I heard) is used by farming and only 20% is used by people to drink and shower. That’s 20% is across 40 million residents. If our population jumped by 2 million, then farming usage would need go from 80% to 79% and drinking water usage would go up to 21%.

    With that said, we might have to cut some crops such as alfalfa – which is mostly exported to Middle East.

    And that’s the type of trade-off we’re talking about.

    If course, each region has its own water issues, so not all can grow equally.

  • JustJake

    Sen Portantino is taking all the heat for a call that was blessed from above. It only had a reported 13 floor votes and would have failed. Besides (loud) yimbys and advocacy groups that were all thrown a bone, SB50 failed miserably to gain overall public support. Behind the scenes, media outlets were engaged to carry the message, polls were commissioned, “influencers” made a racket on social media, developers threw support money, realtors lobbied for it but still, the vast majority of people and municipalities revolted against the divisive, confrontational way in which SB50 was designed. Is anyone surprised? The choice was never SB50 vs the status quo. The challenge is to develop consensus and support. Instead, Wiener went into attack mode.

  • Eric Johnson

    Everyone who gets their news exclusively from reddit was surpised.

  • Do Something Nice

    Stop calling it a transit-housing bill. San Francisco transit infrastructure is beyond capacity and there was NOTHING in SB50 to improve transit. No, it only allowed higher density, which is good in some areas, but it would also make transit much worse. It was clearly a housing bill.

    Build out transit FIRST then build all the homes you want.

  • grendelkhan

    It only had a reported 13 floor votes and would have failed.

    Reported by who? It got six votes in the Government and Finance committee (Beall, Hurtado, McGuire, Moorlach, Nielsen, Wiener) and nine in Housing (Caballero, Durazo, Moorlach, Morrell, Roth, Skinner, Umberg, Wieckowski, Wiener); as Moorlach and Wiener are on both, that’s thirteen votes. Huseo and Stone are cosponsors of the bill who were on neither committee, which makes fifteen Senators who already voted for or cosponsored the bill, and only two recording opposition (Hertzberg in G&F, Bates in Housing).

    How do you know there weren’t five more votes out there for it? The sponsors seemed to think it had the support it needed for a floor vote.

    Besides (loud) yimbys and advocacy groups that were all thrown a bone, SB50 failed miserably to gain overall public support.

    SB 50 had the support of business (the Chamber of Commerce) and labor (the California Federation of Labor). Of young people (the UC Student Association) and old (AARP of California). Polling shows public support at 66-18 in favor. The full list of supporters is enormous, but includes the mayors of San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento and San Jose.

    I don’t know what else to tell you. The bill had good public support; it had a broad base of endorsements. (Has, I should say.) The only people who didn’t support it were rent-seeking homeowners pulling the ladder up after themselves and Michael Weinstein’s astroturf groups.

    This is shocking precisely because the bill had successfully formed a coalition. If it was as unpopular as you say, it should have gone to a floor vote, so that Senators would have to stand behind their choices.

  • grendelkhan

    If these people don’t live in cities, they’ll live in sprawling new developments in Stockton or the Central Valley up north, or in one of the further-out suburbs down south.

    Do you think they’ll use less resources and make less traffic when they’re driving three hours each way? Do you think they’ll use less water when they’re watering a single-family lawn rather than living in an apartment? Do you think they’ll use less electricity air-conditioning an entire house rather than an apartment?

    People don’t just vanish when you don’t make space for them in cities. They’re going to live somewhere; they’re going to use some resources. Building denser cities is the most efficient way to do this.

    (For a primer on water issues in California–tl;dr, humans use so little water that we could desalinate it and it would still be affordable; most of it goes to lawns and irrigation–read this; it’ll make sense of the numbers involved.)

  • JustJake

    Look, many of the prior committee votes were a courtesy, and various members mentioned they voted to move the bill forward, not to imply floor ‘support’. You can believe the Yimby line if you like, but explain your surprise. Things are not always as they appear. This is politics. As Sen. Atkins said, it didn’t have the votes. Of course Wiener says he did. Both are not correct. Actions speak louder than words. Portantino doesn’t mind taking the heat, but sorry, this result was not the result of one individual.

  • crazyvag

    It’s transit because it makes better use of existing transit. It takes very few CO2 emissions to add another ferry vs Highway lanes, car and fuel costs which what happens if spread people out further.

  • Pamela Rappel

    I still don’t buy it. First off without SB50 there is already high density housing being built in areas where it make sense. Chinatown in LA is one example. They have torn down the small shops along Broadway and have built giant multi-use buildings with shops on the first floor and five or six floors of apartments above. These structures also have good access to public transit. What this measure would do is allow developers to build bloated over sized buildings anywhere without over site. Uncontrolled development of any sort is a blight and without a plan in place ahead of the projects it is a disaster.

  • Flatlander

    So you are admitting that you really don’t care about water at all, that it was just a convenient (and wrong) talking point to hide your other opinions?

  • Pamela Rappel

    Absolutely not. It is it is unrealistic to think that there will never be any new construction. The development in Chinatown was vetted for years until it was approved. What I am saying is that without a comprehensive plan to weigh the pros and cons you create more problems than you solve. California needs to adapt water conservation in all sectors environmental, agriculture and urban, A blanket resolution to remove all over site is a really bad idea.

  • sf in sf

    The BART stations at Glen Park and Balboa Park can handle 5x the boardings without breaking a sweat, for starters.

  • LazyReader

    If San Francisco want’s real estate desperately, why not build artificial islands like Dubai, unlike Dubai we’ll make them of something that lasts, not sand. Or extend the area out to sea.

    Every year the aggregate industry manufactures 25 billion tons of concrete, most of which ends in landfills after it’s end use. It’s the perfect foundation. 100 million tons of scrap concrete could build a land scape foundation over 500 acres, then dump pumped sediment, sand and soil on top. The same way we extended Manhattan for the last four centuries.

  • thielges

    In other words the Reber plan:

    Kind of hard on the environment.

  • LazyReader

    I’m not talking the bay….I’m talking the western side. Second of all as for the environment, that can be mitigated. The concrete scrap can be coated with Force 10000. A concrete that mimics natural rock, it’s used in artificial reefs. The rip rap of new material foundation would extend the shore to cleaner water. Plus contaminated sediment can be used as the building material for the new land.

  • Ben Phelps

    it specifically is targeted near transit, no “anywhere without over site” so what the hell are you talking about.

  • Ben Phelps

    it’s pretty clear you don’t understand the bill or know what it does

  • Pamela Rappel

    I’ve read this part
    This bill would establish a streamlined ministerial approval process for neighborhood multifamily and transit-oriented projects, thereby exempting these projects from the CEQA approval process.

  • Pamela Rappel

    Define near and also what exactly you mean by transit.

  • grendelkhan

    Look, many of the prior committee votes were a courtesy, and various
    members mentioned they voted to move the bill forward, not to imply
    ‘floor support’.

    I’ll admit that I don’t know that much about California Senate arcana. I have no special insight. But the fact is, nearly everyone who’s had a chance to vote on the bill has voted positively on it. It’s only held up because one guy blackballed it.

    And more to the point, there really is an impressive coalition and good polling behind the bill. This shouldn’t have happened, and really underscores the level of political awfulness that California is dealing with.

  • thielges

    Surely you realize that San Francisco’s Pacific coast is significantly different from Dubai’s Persian Gulf. For starters the seabed floor is steeper and deeper along the Pacific. Then there’s those famously large waves.

  • LazyReader

    Bathymetric data from NOAA, The first quarter mile out to sea is no deeper than 20 meters average so the foundation would have to be laid. Since concrete of course…….. SINKS, the material would rest upon each other and we’re not talking little concrete but many multiton pieces. The rest would be filled with dredge spoil and sand. Building an artificial island or land extension isn’t difficult, just ask Manhattan.

  • grendelkhan

    It’s easy to make mistakes here if you’re not quantitative. We’re in the middle of a decades-long housing drought. You’re concept of what’s “bloated” or “oversized” or “out of scale” was developed as a result of that shortage. And even though you can see cranes, Los Angeles is still not building much housing.

    Please consider that you’re allowing your sense of aesthetics to override people’s need for shelter. We’ve tried to build “in-scale”, “locally-controlled”, “non-bloated” housing for the last thirty-odd years. We’re left with horrific rents, epidemic displacement, and people being left homeless in droves.

    SB 50 is very controlled development! Look at how detailed it is! It doesn’t even allow for height changes in the vast majority of the state, just duplexes or fourplexes!

    Your city has had years, decades to plan ahead for this. Will there be a plan in place next year, when homelessness is even worse and prices higher? The year after that?

  • Pamela Rappel

    First of all I think that taking a “qualitative” rather than a “quantitative” view of the environment is actually the right choice. More is not always better. In your argument if we had employed decades of “not to scale” “uncontrolled” and “bloated” management we would be in a much better place right now. That is ridiculous.

    Affordable housing will not be addressed by this measure. . Developers of most of the purposed housing will get a pass on providing affordable housing, this is from the actual language of the proposal:

    (i) If the project has 10 or fewer units, no affordability contribution is imposed.
    (ii) If the project has 11 to 20 residential units, the development proponent may pay an in-lieu fee to the local government for affordable housing, where feasible, pursuant to subparagraph

    See what they did there….up to 10 units they do not need to include affordable housing nor do they have to “pay an in-lieu fee”. More than 11 and they can pay the fee and build housing that will be rented at market value. (or they can build affordable housing elsewhere…increasing the sprawl ??)

    I am not saying there isn’t a problem, I am saying that, for a lot of reasons, SB50 is not the answer.

  • grendelkhan

    Platitudes aren’t helpful here. No, more isn’t always better, but when there’s a shortage of over three million homes in the state, yes, more is exactly what’s needed.

    Places that produce enough housing while maintaining walkability are denser and taller. If we had more of that, we’d have shorter commutes, lower home prices, and less traffic. I’m sure there’s a point at which it would be too much. But we’re so far on the other side of that this line of argument is like a man dying of thirst passing on an oasis for fear of water intoxication.

    Housing affordability certainly would be addressed by this measure. First, localities can institute whatever inclusive-zoning laws they want; SB 50 merely sets a floor, not a ceiling. (Hey, it’s that local control people love!) And second, even building market-rate housing still reduces displacement and lowers rents. (Which inclusionary zoning doesn’t do!)

    The question here is, is SB 50 better than nothing? Because nothing is exactly what we’re getting this year. We’ll be saved from “out-of-scale” development, from insufficiently subsidized new apartments, and as a result, we’ll get no new apartments, more homelessness, more displacement, more sprawl.

  • Pamela Rappel

    No, SB 50 is not better than nothing.


With S.B.-827 dead, transit-adjacent structures, such as this Wells Fargo in West Portal, will still be protected by local zoning from being displaced by dense apartment buildings. Image: Google Earth

Transit Housing Bill Dies in Committee

Note: GJEL Accident Attorneys regularly sponsors coverage on Streetsblog San Francisco and Streetsblog California. Unless noted in the story, GJEL Accident Attorneys is not consulted for the content or editorial direction of the sponsored content. State Senator Scott Wiener’s transit housing bill, S.B. 827, was defeated by a six-to-four vote in the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee yesterday. “While […]