California’s SB 50, which would upzone areas near job- and transit-rich areas (and, consequently, most of the major urban areas in the state), passed committee twice. The bill cleared the Housing and Government and Finance committees by 9-1 and 6-1 bipartisan votes, respectively.
Along the way to being passed by the Government and Finance committee, some changes were made to the bill that, while limiting its scope, leave the most aggressive provisions of the bill intact.
Specifically, SB 50 was merged with Democrat Mike McGuire’s SB 4. This bill, very similar in spirit to SB 50, is less ambitious. It focuses on upzoning near transit-rich areas, but limits the bill to urban areas in counties with more than 1 million people, and also exempts some coastal areas.
The compromise bill would affect counties with more than 600,000 people, and wouldn’t apply to coastal municipalities with fewer than 50,000 people. This handy chart from artist Alfred Twu does an excellent job explaining the legislation as it stands.
The term “watered down” doesn’t do the bill justice–if signed into law, it would still be the most comprehensive zoning code update in the U.S.–but the concessions made by Wiener were likely politically necessary and an excellent example of how major policy changes can still be achieved through compromise.
And on policy grounds, the exemption of smaller counties is reasonable. Because the housing crisis in California is most severe in larger urban areas, preempting smaller counties’ zoning codes is not a hill to die on.
To put icing on the cake, last week the legislation earned the endorsement of The New York Times editorial board:
The most promising proposal to supercharge construction is California Senate Bill 50, which would force local governments to allow higher-density development in areas close to transit and jobs. On Wednesday, the legislation cleared a major hurdle, winning the approval of a State Senate committee…
It is time to rewrite the rules: The solution to California’s housing crisis is more housing.
Just over one year ago, SB 827, the predecessor to SB 50, died in committee. What a change a year makes.