Key aspects of the 9 housing bills (click to enlarge). SMDP Graphic.







by Ileana Wachtel

Sacramento’s pandemic process allows nine bills to sneak through

A cadre of Bay Area legislators are taking advantage of the coronavirus crisis to push through a slew of bills that would radically change the character of neighborhoods across California. If passed, these bills would wipe out single-family neighborhoods, destroy current property rights and dramatically reduce local control.

The divisive SB 50, put forth by Bay Area state Sen. Scott Wiener, would have banned single-family zoning, allowed 10-unit market-rate apartments on any residential block, and allowed tall buildings in low-density communities near transit.

SB 50 was killed in a dramatic vote in January by Southern California legislators who went against powerful state Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego).

Now, all has changed. Within the next month Atkins and Wiener could force through bills that bring upheaval to every community in California.

Normally bills would proceed through multiple committees, be debated in hearings, and be given a timeline for the public to weigh in. COVID-19 has limited the hearings to only one committee, reducing lawmakers’ ability to vet important bills.

Atkins has spent months re-creating with Wiener all they lost in January, working with Bay Area legislators who believe Southern California families should adapt to dense market-rate apartment life as San Francisco has. SoCal legislators have been warned that they cannot humiliate Atkins a second time.

With virtually no media coverage in Sacramento due to must-cover news of the pandemic, protests and demands for police reform, Atkins and Senate Housing Committee Chairman Wiener are pushing a set of bills that piecemeal SB 50 back into existence.

The senate bills pair up with bills sponsored by Bay Area Assembly members — joined by Assemblyman Richard Bloom — that “upzone” stable neighborhoods and significantly reduce the legislature’s commitment to affordable housing. In May, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood), said that he was concerned about the lack of affordable housing. But a number of the bills favor market-rate and cut affordable unit requirements.

The legislature reconvenes on July 27 after a delay due to at least one legislator and several aides contracting COVID-19. While crews disinfect the entire Capitol building, some Sacramento watchers are predicting that, given the public’s lack of awareness, there will be severely truncated debate and fast votes to approve much of the package.

Ileana Wachtel is a communications specialist, working at the national and local level focusing on electoral politics, land-use, and environmentalissues. She is the former communications director at Coalition to Preserve LA, where she focused on housing, homeless and environmental sustainability.