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California State Capitol

State Lawmakers Kill High-Density Housing Bill (SB-827)

After a lively debate, the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee killed Senate Bill 827 (Wiener) on Tuesday. The bill would have limited the ability of counties and cities to block high-density apartment and condominium construction near public transit.

The committee voted 6 "Nay" to 4 "Yay" and prevented the bill from moving forward. Four Senators did not cast votes, even though they were present.

Here's how the Senators voted:

The Senate Committee's discussion began with Senator Wiener presenting his case and the benefits of the bill. Wiener argued the ambitious proposal was long overdue, given the state’s spiraling housing costs and freeways clogged with long-distance commuters who can’t afford to live near their jobs. "SB 827 promotes exactly the kind of housing that we need."

The San Francisco Chronicle reported; "He (Wiener) took aim at Beverly Hills and Marin County, saying they opposed his bill because it would remove an obstacle that wealthy cities use to keep new housing out of their communities."

Then, each Senator gave reasons for his/her vote.

Senator Beall (D-San Jose) stated that it didn't make sense to plan housing near bus services that are not permanent and recounted a personal story about how his father sold his car with the intention of relying on the bus to get to work, but then the bus route was eliminated. Beall was also concerned about the bill's impact on social justice.

Senator Roth (D-Riverside) said; 'My challenge, frankly, is the one-size-fits-all approach to the bill." Senator Dodd (D-Napa) stated something similar; "The bill isn't flexible enough" and doesn't work for small cities.

Senator Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) indicated it was poor city planning to have long corridors of dense housing. He added; "It doesn't make sense to dole out development near non-permanent bus routes." Allen also stated; "Density doesn't bring affordable housing. Just look at Manhattan" and the bill doesn't include historical preservation.

Senator Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton) relayed that the bill didn't address the needs of her area, which is housing-rich and jobs-poor, the exact opposite of what San Francisco (Wiener's district) is facing.

Senator Mike McGuire (D-Marin, Sonoma) gave a number of reasons for opposing the bill: "The affordable housing provisions are not strong enough."; "The bill needs stronger anti-displacement protections."; The bill weakens CEQA and the ability to analyze impacts; Cities need at least 5 years to plan for increased density; and Smaller cities with poor transit need more parking. He added that dense housing around unpredictable bus service does not make sense.

Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), who voted in favor of the bill, said; "If we don't build more housing we will never get the cost of housing down."

Many of the Senators who opposed the bill, prefaced their remarks by thanking Senator Wiener for his persistence and bringing an important topic to the limelight. They also expressed that they look forward to working with him on another bill to solve the housing crisis. Some senators saidthey liked the idea of housing density near public transportation but the details of the bill were wrong.

Acknowledging probable defeat, Senator Wiener expressed; "Whatever happens today, we're going to keep working." "This issue isn't going away. This bill isn't going away."

Here's Senator Scott Wiener's statement regarding his loss:

At the end of the hearing, Senator Wiener asked for reconsideration and Chair Beall granted it without amendments. By granting the "reconsideration without amendments", Chair Beall allowed Wiener to bring the bill up for another vote at a subsequent committee hearing, provided there are not any new amendments.