Housing Policy

Landmark California Housing Bill Stalls in State Legislature

SB 50's upzoning provisions were repeatedly watered down to make the bill more politically palatable. It turns out that wasn't enough.


A landmark housing reform bill has stalled in the California Legislature, disappointing the state's housing activists and bringing joy to the hearts of NIMBYs everywhere.

On Thursday, the chair of the California Senate's Appropriations Committee Anthony Portantino (D–La Cañada Flintridge) said that SB 50 would not be getting a vote in his committee as expected. Instead, the bill would be held for the rest of the year. In other words, it won't be brought up for any votes until January 2020 at the earliest.

SB 50 would legalize the construction of quadplexes (four-unit homes) by-right statewide. In other words, local governments would have much less discretion to withhold construction permits for these small-scale developments.

It would also upzone residential land near frequently serviced transit stops and job centers, allowing apartment buildings to be constructed where only single-family homes are currently allowed.

Lifting restrictions on larger, denser housing has proven exceedingly controversial, especially when it's done at the state level. Opponents of the bill include the city councils of both San Francisco and Los Angeles, as well as the state's motley collection of anti-development activists.

Nevertheless, support from developers, unions, and pro-density housing activists had been enough to shepherd SB 50 through the committee process. It earned bipartisan approval in both the Senate's Housing Committee and its Government and Finance Committee.

Sen. Scott Wiener (D–San Francisco), the bill's sponsor, is disappointed with the decision. "We have a housing crisis right now," he says in a statement. "The status quo isn't working. California's failed housing policy is pushing people into homelessness, poverty, and two-hour commutes."

Wiener says he's committed to picking the bill up again next year. But this week's news is nevertheless an unmistakable blow—especially given how many concessions and amendments had already been folded into the legislation to ensure its passage.

Weiner's bill included explicit requirements that developers who take advantage of SB 50's upzoning provisions must still abide by local wage and benefit regulations, a concession to the building trade unions that had been instrumental in killing off the senator's previous upzoning bill back in 2018.

To win over skeptical low-income tenant groups—who fear that upzoning will bring gentrification and displacement—Weiner also included strict demolition controls and affordability requirements.

In April, the bill was amended even more to exempt smaller coastal communities and existing historic preservation districts from the relaxed development regulations.

If this heavily compromised version of the legislation is still running into roadblocks, the bill will probably be watered down even more.

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  1. “Opponents of the bill include the city councils of both San Francisco and Los Angeles, as well as the state’s motley collection of anti-development activists.”
    “Sen. Scott Wiener (D–San Francisco), the bill’s sponsor, is disappointed with the decision.”
    Maybe Scott should pay attention to his constituents?

    1. The city council is a small and probably non-representative portion of his constituents

  2. More immigration would solve this problem.

  3. >>>California’s failed housing policy is pushing people into homelessness

    fourplexes would be free to the homeless?

    1. I think there’s some middle ground between needing a free house, and just needing one that costs less than 7 figures

      1. In SF, condo’s in buildings, with far more than four units, still go for 7 figures.
        Location, location, location.
        If people can’t afford to live somewhere, they need to go to a place that they can afford.

  4. California: Because housing STILL isn’t expensive enough!

  5. First, CA does not have a housing crisis. Housing is expensive in CA and it is a “crisis” only to those who don’t make enough money to live here, so you can ignore that.
    And, yes, nearly every city is very much at fault for the high prices because of zoning, nimbys, and ‘green’ regulations. Weiner’s would have helped, but his bill also included new regulations. Weiner is an econ-ignoramus.
    And one of the bills which died along with his would have the state setting up an agency to record *every* rental unit, but size and price, everywhere in the state; Suffice to say, I’m willing to let Weiner’s bill die if that’s what it takes to kill *that* boondoggle.
    And on to related issues, SF rewards the homeless for making SF their home, to the tune of $300M/year, and then the government is *SHOCKED* to find the population of bums is growing at a wonderful rate:
    “SF homeless count up 17 percent, driven by vehicle dwellers”
    San Francisco has 17 percent more unhoused people on a given night compared to two years ago. The number? A disappointing 8,011 people.
    That’s according to one-night, point-in-time count data released by the city Thursday afternoon. The report was a blow to city officials who have taken on the city’s homelessness as as a central issue, spending $300 million a year to whittle away at 2017’s count of 6,858 unhoused individuals.”

    1. Maybe that should stop using that money to knock down tiny homes constructed by charities for not being up to the square-footage standards of SF residents making $200K, and intstead spend that money making more tiny homes.

      Could be a start.

    2. Oh, and Marin County, that bastion of rich proggies over the Golden Gate was gerry-mandered out of any density requirements. Woulda lost too many hot-tubs…

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