Highly controversial legislation encouraging the building of tall multiple dwellings around transit lines in single-family neighborhoods, SB 50, may be in for a rough time as it makes its way through the legislature.
The measure would create new incentives for developers to build apartments and condos near train and bus stations, even in areas zoned strictly for single-family homes. The impact on Los Angeles would be huge as well as in the suburban cities that ring Los Angeles and in other parts of the state.
A key player, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, seems skeptical, which could be bad news for the bill. Rendon appoints the chairs of the committees that will hear the bills and will have a big say in determining a final Assembly vote on the measure by Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat. It has passed a Senate committee. In the end, Gov. Gavin Newsom will have to sign the bill for it to become state law.
Rendon's spokesman, Kevin Liao, emailed me the speaker's view: "Speaker Rendon has not taken a position on SB 50. He agrees that building higher-density housing near public transit is an effective way addressing the housing crisis while minimizing environmental impact. However, one-size does not fit all in housing and land use policy and we need to be mindful of that as we have discussions around what levels of density the state mandates. There's still work to do, but we're hopeful we can keep working with Sen. Wiener on this and other efforts to address the housing crisis."
Mayor Eric Garcetti seems ambivalent, to put it mildly. Weiner needs his support, along with that of other mayors. The Los Angeles City Council voted 12-0 for a resolution opposing the Wiener bill. Garcetti returned the resolution to the council without signing it. His letter to the council made it clear Wiener will have to work hard for his support:
"I share the concerns of the City Council and it is critical that any state housing legislation, including SB 50, build on our progress, not undermine it. Key elements of the bill that may address our collective concerns still require clarification and refinement, and the bill’s author continues to incorporate amendments that address outstanding issues. I am hopeful that legislation will emerge that strategically addresses the need for heightened urgency in growing our state’s housing stock, while also protecting renters from displacement, (and)incentivizing maximum affordability."
Garcetti is torn between preserving single-family neighborhoods and ending a shortage of affordable housing that contributes to the city's growing homeless population. Such pressures have resulted in support for the Weiner bill from Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, a leading Weiner bill advocate, the mayors of San Francisco and Oakland and other mayors.
But Rendon's insistence that "one size does not fit all in housing and land use policy" is a warning they have a long way to go.