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SB 50 is done. Sen. Toni Atkins has promised something will take its place.
One after the other, as senators publicly wrung their hands over SB 50, the bill to dramatically increase dense housing near transit, they all said a version of this: We can still get a different housing bill done on the same timeline that isn’t this one.
And now that’s the plan.
The bill had more support than opposition, but it couldn’t clear the required vote threshold. With the deadline for its survival now lapsed, Sen. Scott Wiener’s effort has failed for a third year. It was a failure for Wiener, and for state Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins, who’d made moves earlier this month to ease its passage but couldn’t ensure its fate in the chamber she leads. Once the bill was dead, she vowed that something else would take its place.
“So here’s the thing: we need a housing production bill. We need a housing production bill that includes consensus solutions so we can help solve our housing affordability crisis,” Atkins said in a statement. “Despite the work Senator Wiener and SB 50’s advocates have made, the debate and the vote today showed this particular vehicle isn’t it. The opponents of SB 50 have real concerns, but have offered no substantive alternative with the same kind of scope of SB 50. Things have to change. We need to reset the conversation. So I am making the commitment to you today that in the coming weeks I will be meeting with stakeholders on all sides to find a way forward on a housing production bill that can pass both houses and get the governor’s signature.”
I asked Atkins’ office whether she is considering writing such a bill herself. Her office did not respond. Wiener announced on Twitter that he’d already introduced two placeholder housing bills. CalMatters has a good initial take on what alternate housing production bills could look like.
The deadline to introduce new bills is Feb. 21.
“California’s housing affordability crisis demands our state pass a historic housing production bill. I applaud Senate pro Tempore Atkins for vowing to continue this fight and working to pass a major housing production bill by year’s end,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement.
San Diego’s four senators broke along party lines in their votes on the bill. Atkins and Sen. Ben Hueso voted for it. Hueso made a fascinating case for the bill based on his experience in San Diego’s southern neighborhoods. It’s worth reading:
The community I live in, southeast San Diego, had a community plan that was updated in 1987, and in response to high crime rates, the leaders of the city at that time decided to downzone. A lot of residential zoning that allowed six units, was downzoned to two units. Now talk about moving the goalposts during the competition. Here are individuals who paid a premium for residentially zoned land that allowed six units, and it was downzoned to two units. That’s like taking money out of people’s pockets. And what it really resulted in is a lot of people not tearing down units where they had four units already, because they could only rebuild two units. … And so we’ve had units in my district that have never been replaced, they can’t be replaced – it doesn’t make financial sense to replace. And so we have a lot of dilapidated units that people don’t want to reinvest in, because they can’t rebuild. The reason I’m raising this as an issue is because you probably had that same experience in your community. Because what happened in those years in the entire state of California since then, there’s been a lot of downzoning that’s occurred since then. If you consider that in 1987, the population of California was 28 million people. Today we have 40 million people. And in that period, we’ve seen a lot of downzoning take place. If you know math, it’s a very simple issue. It’s an issue of supply and demand. And if we lowered the ability to provide that supply, we only have demand increasing and no ability to supply that demand. So this bill, I agree this bill doesn’t solve the problem. It doesn’t get to the primary issue. But it’s going to help. Is it going to destroy residential zoning as some people claim? No. Does it go as far as some people fear it might? Absolutely not. But will it make a difference? Absolutely yes, it will. And I think talk is cheap. As long as I’ve been here we’ve been talking about this issue. We’ve made some gains. We have funded some affordable housing. But as far as really addressing the supply issue, we have not done that. As our governor comes in promising to build several million units, I don’t know how we’re going to do that. This will give us some ability to deliver on that promise, with more funding and support for cities to do that. But the political will that exists at the local level is not enough to deal with the supply issue, so I ask for your support on this measure.
Republican Sens. Pat Bates and Brian Jones both expressed concerns about overriding local control, citing their experiences in local government.
“I appreciate the intentions and ambition of Sen. Wiener to try to solve the problem, but I really think that rather than a statewide effort he ought to focus his attention on the nine counties in the Bay Area – the epitome of the state’s housing crisis,” said Jones in a statement touting his rejection of the bill. “When I was on the (Santee) Council we worked with our residents, and through an extensive process we generally came up with reasonable, consensus-based decisions. SB 50 has the potential to destroy that local process.”
After Voice of San Diego spent two years reporting on how school districts handle (or don’t) sexual misconduct cases, San Diego Unified launched a task force to recommend strategies and protocols to better address the issue. Those recommendations dropped this week, and among them is an item urging the district to endorse a state bill, AB 1929, written by Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio.
That bill is tied to an earlier law passed by Rubio in 2015, SB 478, which allowed for up to 10 counties to create pilot programs allowing for internet-based reporting of child abuse and neglect. Existing law requires mandated reporters of suspected abuse to report concerns via telephone.
So far, only Los Angeles County has created such a pilot program. The initial bill required the pilot program to wrap by 2021. AB 1929 would remove that deadline.
A fact sheet created by Rubio’s office says the L.A. system has been a success: “The CARES online reporting system has exceeded expectations. In 2019, over 5,900 online reports to CARES were submitted (primarily by school personnel) – in comparison to 1,838 online reports in 2018 – a 322% increase.”
Endorsing AB 1929 could mean that San Diego Unified is interested in creating its own pilot program, and removing the sunset date from the original bill could allow it to do so.
The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, which is separately investigating how to better address misconduct cases in schools, recently launched its own online reporting tool where students, parents and others can report abuse.
Much of the debate over SB 50 has centered on whether the state should impose mandates for communities that have their own unique needs and idiosyncrasies. But sometimes state government works the other way, too: Lawmakers propose state bills aimed at addressing hyperlocal problems.
In a story this week, Maya Srikrishnan explained that Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez introduced a bill aimed at clarifying state law to allow electric-assist pedicabs because local officials in San Diego continue to insist that state law prevents them from changing local ordinances allowing the vehicles. State officials have said that’s not true. Now Gonzalez is writing a bill just to make that clear to them.
“This has been a hyper-local issue in my district,” Gonzalez told Srikrishnan. “It’s taken up so much of my time for what it is, but I’m using up one of my bills because I have now been hearing for years that it is an issue. Everyone appears to say, you don’t need a bill for this, but this way, if we specifically make it allowable under state law, we can get down to whether or not it will continue to be prohibited by the city.”