As volunteers across Los Angeles County fanned out to count the number of our friends and neighbors who are living without permanent, stable housing, our legislators in Sacramento failed once again to approve a bill that could do more to house people than any other.
The More Homes Act, better known as SB 50, would have legalized fourplexes in areas across the state where the only type of housing that is currently allowed is a single family house, and allowed mid-sized apartment buildings in areas near transit. Senator Scott Wiener of San Francisco amended his bill to give cities more control over the details, but the basic goal remained the same: California cannot end the housing crisis without allowing more homes to be built where they are needed most.
Since 1964, Santa Monica has only added about 8,000 new residents, despite adding many times that number of jobs. Today, the population more than doubles during the day as workers flow in from across Southern California, more and more of them becoming “super commuters” who endure hours behind the wheel each day just getting to and from work.
These commutes are challenging our employers—both private and public sector—in their efforts to attract and retain talented workers. Servers and bartenders, teachers and first responders are increasingly faced with the same challenge of finding available and affordable housing within a reasonable distance of where they work. The future Santa Monica workforce—kids who are born and raised here—can’t afford to start their careers and families here.
SB 50 was designed to address these challenges by unlocking prime, coastal land that is currently reserved exclusively for those who own detached houses, especially land that surrounds mass transit. By allowing more people to live closer to their jobs and to train and bus stops, we can begin shrinking these super commutes and stop putting new housing in fire-prone rural areas.
Other state laws are mandating that all cities increase their housing production, but without any tools for them to get there. SB 50 was that tool. Santa Monica cannot plan for the 9,000 additional units it is being required to—more than it has added over the past 55 years—if so much of the city remains cordoned off to any kind of density.
The status quo—squeezing apartments into tiny areas of land, while the rest of the state is set aside for sprawling houses—has displaced thousands of Californians from their neighborhoods, and from their homes. 600,000 people in Los Angeles County spend 90% of their income on housing. They are one hiccup away from becoming homeless.
Senator Wiener included robust protections for existing renters to ensure that older buildings are not knocked down for new ones. And cities like Santa Monica could continue to enforce their inclusionary zoning policies, ensuring that whatever gets built, some units will be set aside for renters with the lowest incomes.
Despite the urgency of the situation, and the unprecedented protections put in place to prevent existing renters from being displaced, SB 50 died in January, the third year in a row Sen. Wiener’s signature housing bill has failed to advance.
This is unacceptable. Californians cannot wait another year for bold action on housing. Governor Gavin Newsom called for legislation this year to cut the red tape that so often stifles construction for years, and for increasing density near transit and jobs.
Over 60% of Californians support these types of changes. As the Governor said, It is time for California to say “yes” to housing.
Laurel Rosen is CEO of the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce.