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How SB 50 could possibly make a comeback

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“Nothing will ever change around housing if we keep putting off solutions like SB 50,” said Mayor London Breed

Oakland, one of many California cities suffering through the housing crisis.
Photo by Shutterstock

Senate Bill 50, the ambitious transit-housing bill that seemed on the verge of making it to the floor of the California Senate for a full vote, ran aground on the state’s Appropriations Committee last week. The committee deemed the legislation ineligible for a vote until January 2020.

Committee Chair Anthony Portantino imposed that decision, saying at the time, “Making it a two-year bill allows [State Sen. Scott Wiener] to continue to work on an issue that [...] are challenges with it.”

As the chairperson, Portantino has almost sole discretion about the status of bills that move through his committee. After his decision Thursday, there are still technically a few ways that the bill’s fortunes could revive, however unlikely.

First, Portantino could change his mind—he has the option of amending his previous decision anytime. This would be the simplest solution to the impasse, but Portantino has given no public indication that he plans on making such a decision.

Second, the Senate’s president pro tempore, Toni Atkins, could effectively overrule Portantino by yanking the bill out of committee and fast tracking it straight to a vote.

But Atkins said in a Friday statement that she won’t, despite signaling her support for the bill: “I will not circumvent the decision made by the Appropriations Committee Chair on SB 50. Regardless of my own personal feelings about this critical issue, part of my job as the leader of the Senate is to uphold the authority and decisions of committee chairs.”

Finally, Atkins notes that “significantly amending the bill and limiting its applications in large swaths of the state” could prompt the committee to take it up again before January.

North Bay Senator Mike McGuire, who coauthored SB 50 after merging it with his own similar housing legislation earlier this year, told Petaluma 360 that Portantino has not articulated what sort of amendments he wants to see for the plan.

For now bill backers can only wait for January to roll around and hope that the committee proves more cooperative.

Presumably in hopes of jolting the bill back to life, Wiener’s office has circulated complaints about the decision to scuttle it from mayors of California cities, including San Francisco and Oakland.

“Nothing will ever change around housing if we keep putting off solutions like SB 50,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed said via Twitter, adding, “We can’t keep saying no to everything if we want San Francisco to be a place where people can afford to live.”

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf similarly held, “Our crisis is only deepened when bills like Scott Wiener’s SB 50 get stalled, and that hurts our residents, our families, our community.”

Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs added, “We need action now, not in a year. I call on the Senate to act on SB 50 this year.”

SB 50’s critics, on the other hand, were jubilant about its recent misfortunes.

Michael Weinstein, president of the LA-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation and frequent Wiener antagonist, said via email, “Wiener will be back with this bad legislation next year. We urgently need rent relief, construction of truly affordable housing, and anti-gentrification protections.”