SB 50’s housing solution is dead so how will the housing crisis in California be confronted? Does painful compromise have a chance?

Despite a full court press, the bill to change zoning laws and allow for mid-size, multi-family housing near transportation and jobs backed by nearly 200 supporting organizations could not clear the Senate.

The SB 50 debate did not fall along classical conservative and liberal lines. There were expressions of support for the right of property owners to do with their properties as they choose. Business groups lined up behind the legislation while a number of tenants’ groups and some environmental titled groups are listed in the bill’s opposition. In its final vote on the Senate floor, three Republicans voted for the measure, three voted against. The Democratic no votes were nearly equal to the Democratic yes votes. (The bill received a majority but not the needed 21 votes to pass because of abstentions.)

Given the wide split along non-traditional lines, could this be read as a sign that compromise on deeply held principles is the only answer?

All public officials—in fact, its safe to say practically all Californians–think something must be done about the housing crisis. What, if anything, are they willing to give up to make something happen?

The enduring characterization of legislative compromise is to make all parties in the dispute upset with portions of the solution while each interest gets something they need. 

Possible inclusion in a compromise bill would be changes to the CEQA laws, which can stall or stop housing construction. Such a move, opponents would argue, would loosen California’s strict environmental protections. Another issue would be the curtailment of developer mandates, particularly impact fees. Local governments like those fees but they would benefit from increased property taxes from new construction.  Impact fees add to the cost of construction but so do labor costs often driven by labor’s demand for Project Labor Agreements. Could those agreements be reduced in a compromise bill?

Another powerful interest, a giant in this debate, must be considered –singe family homeowners. That’s something that proponents of zoning changes will have to keep in mind if they intend to pursue a strategy to include multi-family housing units in single family neighborhoods.

The attitudes of owners of single-family detached homes were a subtext of the more loudly expressed opposition argument, the loss of local control. That argument focused on the power of local government planners and officials.  But those officials represent constituents who object to SB 50’s plan to allow for low-profile multi-housing units near transportation corridors. 

As I stated here last May, the threat to the character of single family neighborhoods could be a strong impetus to unite homeowner coalitions against the measure. Homeowners, when unified, are a powerful political force. 

Will suburban voters, seen as a determining voting bloc in many recent elections, continue to rally against the idea?

These voters also seek a solution to the housing crisis and particularly to homelessness that creeps into their neighborhoods.

With the defeat of SB 50, new paths must be found to get through the thicket of obstacles to reach a solution. Thus, the notion that it would take an “ugly” and difficult compromise to get any housing solution past the finish line.