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Key California transit-housing bill goes easy on North Bay

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New amendments to SB 50 would exempt smaller counties from most of its teeth

A sailboat passing by waterfront homes in Sausalito.
Sausalito is one of the Bay Area cities with less stake in SB 50 after this week’s vote.

What could have turned into a showdown between rival transit-housing bills from two Bay Area lawmakers ended not in confrontation but in cooperation: San Francisco-based State Sen. Scott Wiener’s Senate Bill 50 was significantly altered Wednesday, while Healdsburg’s State Sen. Mike McGuire ditched his Senate Bill 4 to instead coauthor Wiener’s legislation.

Both bills came up in the Senate Governance and Finance Committee—which McGuire chairs—and both had similar plans to encourage more housing development near major transit lines throughout California.

But the two senators had notably different approaches, with Wiener’s more aggressive plan contrasting McGuire’s proposal that exempted smaller communities from drastic zoning changes.

To please McGuire and his stalwarts, Wiener’s bill changed to reflect some of SB 4’s priorities, including sparing counties with fewer than 600,000 residents from some of its provisions.

Whereas previously the bill would prevent cities from outlawing four story buildings near major transit hubs, now smaller counties will instead only be asked to allow one extra story on top of existing standards in those areas.

This concession that means that Bay Area enclaves like Marin, Napa, and Sonoma counties—where some of the fiercest resistance to Wiener’s housing expansions stems from—have less to complain about in terms of housing growth.

During Wednesday’s debate, McGuire said that every California city must build more housing, but also insisted that “unique differences of jurisdictions” demanded a different approach.

In a statement after the vote, Wiener said, “I am thankful to my colleagues and to Senator McGuire for understanding that our housing crisis requires bold action.”

The final vote was 6-1.

The bill still has a long way to go—it’s scheduled for the state’s Appropriations Committee next—but Wednesday’s vote clears a major hurdle in the form of McGuire’s competing plan.

In other news, Menlo Park Mayor Ray Mueller joined the chorus of dissenting voices against Wiener’s plan with a Wednesday op-ed in the Daily Post, declaring, “SB 50 would change the character of our city’s treasured residential neighborhoods” and that it “completely ignores [...] the complexity of the ecosystem meant to deliver services to residents that built up around local jurisdiction.”

On Wednesday, the AIDS Housing Foundation, an LA-based non-profit that recently compared SB 50 to racist urban renewal programs of the 20th century, sent out another wave of anti-Wiener advertising, this time deeming the state senator “the man from real estate” and repeating allegations that the bill is quid pro quo for “vast amounts of campaign cash from luxury-housing developers.”