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California transit-housing bill trashed in SF ahead of new push

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State Sen. Scott Wiener’s SB 50 decried at City Hall for second time this year

US-CITYSCAPE-SAN FRANCISCO Photo credit should read Daniel Slim/AFP via Getty Images

Although Sacramento left SF-based State Senator Scott Wiener’s big-ticket housing bill SB 50 for dead earlier this year, the lawmaker plans to resurrect his proposal to encourage more housing near transit lines in 2020.

But he’s not getting any help on the home front.

For the second time this year, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (on which Wiener once served) gave his housing plan a thumbs-down response. On Thursday, SF’s three-person Government Audit and Oversight Committee returned to its resolution of disapproval for SB 50 that the city passed earlier this year.

The new measure reads much like the old one, arguing that, in part, Wiener’s bill “restricts the ability of the city to adopt long term zoning and land use policies” that it considers equitable. The committee also alleges that it will drive “displacement and gentrification” in neighborhoods like the Mission, Chinatown, SoMa, Bayview, Castro, and Inner Richmond.

“We want to build more affordable housing, and we want to do it with real protections,” said Supervisor Gordon Mar, who penned the assay against the bill, adding that the city is not interested in “just giving it away to private developers.”

But Mar also said that, after meeting with the lawmaker, Wiener was considering once again amending SB 50 to help further mitigate the risk of displacement from new development.

Following the resolution, Wiener called Mar’s move “symbolic political theater” and said that the disapproval votes do nothing to resolve the housing crisis.

“It is currently illegal to build affordable housing and apartment buildings in over 70 percent of San Francisco, and in almost all of Supervisor Mar’s district,” the senator added.

SB 50 would eliminate some zoning restrictions near major transit lines and job centers, and likely result in de facto upzoning of key parcels in major California cities—particularly in San Francisco, which is densely laced with transit hubs.

In the past, SF lawmakers have complained about the idea of a Sacramento law undermining their authority to set zoning standards, arguing that it’s unfair to punish SF at a time when the city is building more housing.

Earlier this year, a procedural decision in the State Senate put off any new votes or hearing on SB 50 until January of 2020. Oftentimes this is the sort of thing that smothers legislation, but Wiener is determined not to let his bill fade away.

The Board of Supervisors has no authority over the process and Mar’s resolution merely expresses City Hall’s opinion. Still, a show of support from SF could boost SB 50’s chances ahead of tough votes next year.

The full board will vote on whether or not to yet again decry the SB 50 plan later in December.