An Open Letter to Sen. Toni Atkins on SB 50
A vote by the Senate this year on SB 50, regardless of the outcome, is better than putting the bill into a coma.
Dear Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins,
As a San Diegan, a constituent of your district, and the president of the YIMBY Democrats of San Diego, I urge you to bring SB 50 to the Senate floor this year.
Over 8,000 San Diegans are experiencing homelessness. San Diego is behind in building housing units for all income levels, especially for low- to moderate-income households. It has taken decades for California to reach the housing affordability crisis we are experiencing currently and California simply cannot afford to postpone housing solutions like SB 50 for another year.
SB 50 is the only proposed bill that creates more capacity for affordable and market rate homes in the right places. The More HOMES Act will allow four- and five-story apartment buildings within a half-mile of major transit stops like MTS trolley stations. Within a quarter-mile of a high-quality bus corridors and jobs-rich areas like the Rapid line through North Park and the Uptown community, more homes can be built within existing height limits. The bill delays implementation in disadvantaged communities like City Heights and southeastern San Diego to give those communities time to define their own changes or opt in by 2025.
The YIMBY Democrats of San Diego, the group I lead, supports SB 50 because its members are affected by the affordable housing crisis every day. The crisis requires a multifaceted approach and even more importantly, it requires our elected leaders, including those who are self-identified YIMBYs and particularly those members of our Democratic club, to stand up for their most vulnerable constituents — people experiencing homelessness and renters on the brink of being priced out.
The YIMBY Democrats of San Diego County is not alone in supporting SB 50. There has been a groundswell of support from community members, elected officials and major newspaper editorial boards that are all disappointed in the decision to delay consideration of SB 50 until 2020, an election year. The San Francisco Chronicle bluntly posits that “California Democrats ballyhooed ‘resistance’ to the Trump administration pales next to their resistance to housing a reasonable share of the state’s population.” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti stated that “SB 50 wasn’t perfect, but we can’t wait another year to work out our differences.” Other mayors and legislators from across the state, including San Francisco Mayor London Breed, have endorsed and championed SB 50.
Equity groups like ACT-LA and their statewide coalition had been actively engaged in negotiations to make sure that SB 50 addressed the needs of communities at risk of or experiencing gentrification. Their public statements had expressed serious concerns as well as appreciation for Sen. Scott Wiener’s efforts to address their concerns. Yet while the equity coalition had been working in good faith toward a productive resolution, a senator from a wealthy suburb hit the pause button on SB 50.
Last Thursday, Senate Appropriations Committee chair Anthony Portantino, a Democrat from a Los Angeles suburb where the average home value is $1.7 million, singlehandedly decided to make SB 50 a two-year bill instead of letting it go to a Senate floor vote. Portantino offered no amendments that would resolve his problems with the bill, raising concerns he is using his post to pursue a NIMBY agenda. Further, Portantino voted no on housing development streamlining and killed a bill that would have made it easier to build homeless shelters. Instead, Portantino’s proposed solution to the housing crisis is to create housing crisis awareness license plates.
I understand, senator, your desire to uphold the “authority and decisions of committee chairs,” but that stance is untenable when Portantino makes regressive, undemocratic and unilateral decisions that take away the voting power of every other senator.
Sen. Atkins, it is clear you understand the severity of the housing crisis and the necessity for bold solutions. In 2017, you successfully championed the most important state housing package to date, including your own SB 2, which created a permanent funding source of $250 million annually for affordable homes. You endorsed Propositions 1 and 2, bonds to fund new affordable homes in 2018. You are a proven housing champion, and I hope that legacy continues in 2019.
Bringing SB 50 to a vote next year, during the 2020 election cycle, all but ensures further delay. If the bill can continue this year, Wiener can continue to do the right thing by listening to stakeholders and making amendments that will result in a stronger SB 50.
I ask you to reconsider your decision and bring SB 50 to a vote this year. A vote by the Senate in 2019, regardless of the outcome, is better than putting the bill into a coma. Let’s show California how San Diego is the YIMBY leader of the state. The time to act is now.
Maya Rosas is the founding president of the YIMBY Democrats of San Diego County and an urban planner working in land use and transportation policy.