Support Grows for Bill That Would Legalize More Home Construction Across California

A new poll shows 74 percent of San Francisco residents are in favor of a state bill that would peel back local restrictions on housing.


Vitalii Turchyn/

California's latest effort to allow for more housing construction in the state's urban areas is quickly gaining steam, suggesting that this year's stab at reform might succeed where past attempts have failed.

A new poll from the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce found that 74 percent of people in San Francisco support a state bill that would override local controls to allow for the construction of apartment buildings near transit, the San Francisco Chronicle reported today.

The Chronicle says that the poll did not give an explicit name to this state bill, but it is obviously a reference to SB 50.

That bill, filed by state Sen. Scott Weiner (D–San Francisco), would give developers waivers to local zoning controls, allowing them to build apartment buildings up to 55 feet tall within a quarter mile of transit stops, or up to 45 feet tall within a half mile of transit stops. Weiner's legislation would also override some local zoning controls in "job-rich areas," defined in the bill as areas with high median income and good schools.

It's very similar to a more ambitious bill Weiner introduced at the beginning of 2018, which was killed in committee after stiff opposition from construction unions, tenant advocates, and local governments.

This year, Weiner is gambling that the new SB 50, which is more modest in the kinds of development it would allow, and which makes several important concessions to powerful interest groups and will garner enough support to make it through the legislature.

Those concessions include a requirement that any developers taking advantage of SB 50's waivers pay a "prevailing" wage, a gift to the state's labor unions.

The waivers could not be used on project sites that had rental housing on them within the last seven years. That provision is in response to critiques of upzoning from tenant advocates, who fear it will be used to tear down existing rental housing and replace it with bigger, more expensive units.

The more modest approach of SB 50 appears to be working so far. The State Building and Construction Trades Council—which represents construction unions at the state level—played a critical roll in killing SB 827, but has since endorsed SB 50. Low income housing groups that came out strongly against SB 827 from the beginning are either holding their fire or even offering some muted praise of the bill.

San Francisco was a hotbed of opposition to SB 827 when it was proposed. The city's Board of Supervisors voted 8-3 on a resolution condemning the proposal in April 2018, and supporters of SB 827 performed much worse than expected in the city's November municipal elections.

The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce—who asked about support for the bill as part of a wider annual poll of city residents—is keen to represent this latest survey as proof that opposition to SB 50 is coming from a loud minority.

"It's time to talk about what real solutions are for housing and not get distracted by a couple of loud voices that can drown out what people actually want across the city," said Juliana Bunim, senior vice president at the chamber, to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Whether the coalition assembling behind SB 50 will be enough to get it over the finish line this time remains to be seen. And while the bill is certainly flawed, it is far better than other housing proposals being floated, which include either more money for public housing or rent control.

The bill is currently idling in the California Senate's Committee on Housing and Government and Finance. No hearings have been held.

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  1. “Support Grows for Bill That Would Legalize More Home Construction Across California”

    The headline tells you what you need to know about the CA ‘housing crisis’; it’s by government design.

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  2. If 75% of San Francisco residents believed this, there would be no need for the state to override the city. Basic logic.

    1. SF residents don’t need housing; it’s the folks who want to move there who need the overrides. Residents tend to be of the NIMBY persuasion.

      Also, I’m guessing the “Tenant Associations” are run by community activists who would much prefer government-funded, rent-controlled, soviet-style housing projects for the po-folks they “help.”

      1. “SF residents don’t need housing; it’s the folks who want to move there who need the overrides. Residents tend to be of the NIMBY persuasion.”

        That kind of mirrors my frustration in my own state. I’m saving up to buy a house but the prices just keep going up extremely fast, making saving for a down payment very hard. Buuuut the local/state governments won’t relax regs for new moderately-priced homes to be built… so the minimum price of new units in my area is $500,000. The older homes get snapped up quick cause they’re the only ones people early in their career like me can afford, which causes the other inventory to increase in price.

        Older people that got in while it was still affordable tend to by the NIMBY type… “no, no, no… I don’t want construction in my area….” while they turn around and tell me that I need to get out of renting, millennials aren’t buying homes at the same rate as their parents did… blah blah blah.

        1. I would bet that the ‘older homes’ are getting makovers and flipped, not being bought by families looking for a long term home, but that’s just, like, my opinion man.

          Americans are in competition with the entire planet for local housing, by the way, but don’t worry Reason believes that is a healthy thing. Those are facts.

          1. I would bet that the ‘older homes’ are getting makovers and flipped

            The data I’ve seen for CA is that that isn’t what’s happening. Houses that have been owned for less than 5 years are the only ones being sold. Houses owned for more than 10 years are basically off the market forever – cuz they can now also be passed thru generations without reset of prop tax.

            And CA housing stock is now the same age as Rust Belt housing stock – and older than any Sunbelt state – except that CA has had increasing population (so should have newer stock).

            And Prop13 is when all the screwiness starts in the data. My guess is that those are also the main group of NIMBY owners too.

            1. Half the houses where I live in California are bought by flippers. The other half are bought by foreign cash buyers.

              1. Flipping would be the way that foreclosures ultimately get into the hands of a permanent buyer. So a high % of flipping may just indicate that there isn’t much volume driving prices in the market.

      2. The article is literally talking about residents, so…

    2. No, 75% or more can support anything, as long as it happens to someone or somewhere else.

    3. Just because 75% of residents agree doesn’t mean any elected official would agree. That’s the problem with de facto single-party systems like SF

  3. But wait. We can’t build any new homes in California until the Green New Deal is passed. Otherwise we’ll just have to retrofit them to use zero energy.

    1. So, once the Green New Deal comes to pass … every home is a tear down, huh.

  4. There’s no housing shortage; there’s only too many humans. Get rid of a bunch, and watch how nice CA becomes.

    1. Who is going to voluntarily go first?

      1. Don’t know about “voluntarily,” but a heckofalot of them are ending up in Texas, where they can buy twice as much house. Then they want to bring us all the “advantages” California has.

        Somehow they can’t connect the dots.

  5. This just means that all proposals for transit will now have to start originating at the state level.

    Californians are just dumb as a rock and teat-suckers all

  6. Obviously the way to get liberals to support something is to mention trains.

    And obviously the people in San Francisco assumed it would let them overrule the little people in OTHER California cities, since their own city is already developed around all the train stops.

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