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Livable California

The Livable California 2019 Legislative Report: Year in Review

In 2020, all California cities face an existential battle to save their livability, affordability and environment from state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco, and his dozen or so hardcore followers in the legislature, who embrace Wiener’s failed theory that building dense luxury housing will “trickle down” to the rest of us. is a non-profit statewide group of community leaders, local elected officials and activists who believe in local answers to the housing affordability crisis. We oppose the growing list of top-down Sacramento bills by Wiener and his largely Bay Area-based followers in the state legislature, who seek to cripple local planning and land-use authority and hand this power to private developers.

In 2020 we will continue to fight Wiener and his followers in the California legislature, who are acting on behalf of tech giants and global real estate interests seeking to upend California’s local land-use planning, local knowledge and community input on development.

Wiener’s wrong-headed mantra, that overdevelopment of luxury housing “trickles down” to the poor, is fueling and worsening California’s housing unaffordability — and creating statewide conflict and widespread pushback.

We ask that you join us now to sustain our largely volunteer efforts and help us fund our fund our 2020 initiatives:

We and our allies travel to Sacramento, a city isolated from most of Californian’s population, to urge legislators to kill bad bills and seek rational solutions, not “trickle down” economics.

How and its Allies Fared Against Senate Bill 50, Senate Bill 592, Senate Bill 330, Assembly Bill 68, Assembly Bill 1487, and other legislation in 2019

Teams of our allies, made up of city officials, neighborhood leaders and advocates from around California, trekked to Sacramento from San Diego, The OC, Los Angeles, Central California and Northern California, to engage in face-to-face lobbying throughout 2019.

These teams of statewide allies, often meeting each other for the first time, urged key legislators to kill SB 50 and SB 592 by Scott Wiener (San Francisco), SB 330 by Nancy Skinner (Oakland), and AB 1487 by David Chiu (San Francisco). On a more limited basis, we ran a letter-writing effort against AB 68 by Phil Ting (San Francisco).

Together we sent thousands of letters and made thousands of phone calls to our legislators and to chairs of Sacramento committees. Hundreds of us met with our legislators on Fridays in their local district offices — the one day that state legislators are truly accessible to local voters.

Senate Bill 50 — Killed Until 2020

Wiener’s fiercely opposed SB 50, a radical version of his hated and defeated SB 827 in 2018, was so bad that it inspired “impact” maps to warn the public about what Wiener was up to, including our widely shared and searchable SB 50 Wipeout Map, found here. SB 50 was killed until 2020 by the Senate Appropriations Committee in reaction to the intense criticism and conflict the bill created statewide.

But, backed by huge tech and real estate money and by Wiener’s top champion, California Speaker Toni Atkins, Scott Wiener spent the summer of 2019 lobbying state and city leaders to buckle to SB 50. Wiener is widely believed to be offering “carve outs” to silence his most powerful critics — perhaps even exempting the City of Los Angeles from his bid to kill single-family zoning in California.

Wiener’s rumored intent is to exempt his most powerful SB 50 critics, leaving the rest of California’s cities and communities to battle SB 50 alone. We will be there for this 2020 fight. We will urge Los Angeles and other possible “carve outs” to double-down against Wiener.

Senate Bill 592 — Killed Until 2020

Sen. Wiener’s outrageous SB 592 began as a law about cosmetology. Wiener pushed his cosmetology law through various Sacramento committees — and then he stripped SB 592 of its wording about cosmetology and filled it with wording that hands vast new profits and powers to private developers. This outrageous trick is known in Sacramento as a “gut and amend” bill.

Had it been made into law, SB 592 would have allowed developers to sue cities for denying luxury housing projects, and to build huge luxury dorms such as those appearing in Silicon Valley, and to demolish modest homes to build 5,000-square-foot mansions — none of it affordable housing. Wiener’s gut and amend trick ran into no real hurdles, thanks to his group of followers in the legislature — until Wiener hit a buzz saw in the Assembly Rules Committee, which killed SB 592 until 2020.

Wiener’s indecipherable language — a trademark of every housing bill state Sen. Wiener has authored — did not fly with the Rules Committee. Its members were concerned over SB 592’s baffling amendments and its negative effects on sensitive communities. If Wiener tries to revive SB 592 in 2020, we will be there to fight.

Senate Bill 330 — Approved and Signed by Gov. Newsom

State Sen. Nancy Skinner’s highly contested SB 330 became law despite our strong opposition, and was signed by Gov. Newsom in October. This was a terrible loss, made worse by the near-silence of California’s badly decimated news media regarding the intense battle that unfolded against Skinner, one of the Wiener’s most loyal followers.

SB 330 kills public hearings on controversial developments at the most local community level, muzzling hundreds of vulnerable and sensitive communities. It empowers luxury housing developers to force cities to approve unaffordable, oversized luxury apartments — and if a city rejects such a project, the developer can sue taxpayers for $50,000 per each housing unit “denied” by a city.

Incredibly, SB 330 does not require even a single unit of affordable housing. Yet when we lobbied against SB 330, we met directly with powerful chairs of Sacramento committees who were uninformed, telling us that SB 330 “created affordable housing.” Lack of awareness is not uncommon among powerful California legislators. They have far too many bills to read, and they vote “Yes” in the dark.

This unawareness is a key reason that SB 330 is now law, giving developers a cudgel with which they can destroy urban open spaces, existing affordable housing and in some cases entire communities.

Assembly Bill 1487 — Approved and Signed by Gov. Newsom

Assemblyman David Chiu’s hotly contested mess of a bill barely made it out of committee, yet it was signed into law by Newsom despite stellar analysis by transit expert Tom Rubin and others among our allies, showing that AB 1487 will fuel a disaster in the Bay Area.

AB 1487 turns Bay Area transit bureaucrats — who have demonstrated they cannot run the trains on time — vast powers to oversee housing development, a field about which they know nothing. The bill creates a non-transparent housing bureaucracy that voters don’t elect, and gives this bureaucracy the power to repeatedly place taxes on the ballot, a recipe for disaster. These same transit officials currently oversee the Bay Area’s collapsing transit usage, having spent billions of public dollars (San Francisco Chronicle).

Once AB 1487 is forced on the Bay Area, we predict that metro officials in Southern California — where LA Metro ridership has plunged back to 1985 levels despite billions spent (L.A. Times) — will also demand authority over local housing.

Assembly Bill 68 — Approved and Signed by Gov. Newsom, but Facing Changes

We and our allies opposed AB 68 by Phil Ting, via phone calls and at Friday legislative district office meetings face-to-face with our legislators. This bill limits all cities’ ability to control the construction of granny flats (Accessory Dwelling Units, or ADUs). Although AB 68 was signed by Gov. Newsom, Newsom also signed a flurry of competing and contradictory granny flat bills — AB 139, AB 587, AB 670, AB 671, AB 881 and SB 13.

AB 68 is the most extreme of these laws, limiting a city’s power to control an ADU’s size, lot size, parking or local deadlines for approval. These competing bills will lead to unknown changes in single-family neighborhoods and business districts, but there is some debate over whether the bills force a city to accept ADUs, or merely force cities who already allow ADUs to follow the new laws.

For those of you who read to the end of this report, we offer a final encouragement: Due to the power of California voters, we can stop the bad bills and get our state legislators on a rational path to dealing with housing unaffordability.

The above bills are not the answer, and will seriously exacerbate the crisis. Please join us here, and please help us do this crucial work by donating here.

Thank you all,

Livable California
2940 16th Street
Suite 200-1
San Francisco, CA 94103