SB50: Controversial California bill pushing taller, denser housing passes first hurdle

By Ted Andersen  – Digital Editor, San Francisco Business Times

A controversial state housing bill similar to one that failed last year passed through the Senate Housing Committee in Sacramento.

Senate Bill 50 is State Sen. Scott Wiener’s (D-San Francisco) second recent attempt at tackling California’s housing crisis by encouraging denser and taller buildings near transit and “job-rich areas.” Opponents, including seven members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, say it would lead to density in inappropriate places and accelerate gentrification.

The bill cleared its first hurdle on Tuesday with a 9-1 vote in the State Senate’s Housing Committee. It will now head for a hearing in the Senate Governance and Finance Committee in the coming weeks. 

Wiener’s original version of SB 50 — SB 827 — died in its first committee last year.

Wiener said “arbitrary” low density zoning imposed by certain cities — often in the form of banning any type of housing other than single-family homes – makes it impossible for California to close its 3.5-million home deficit.

“Single-family homes, in my opinion, are a good thing. But so are apartment buildings,” Wiener told the committee.

“When it comes to housing, California’s system of almost pure local control hasn’t worked.”

SB 50 takes away residential density limits and minimum parking requirements near busy transit stops and areas described as “jobs rich” — locations near jobs, with a high area median income relative to the region, and with high-quality public schools. Under the legislation, buildings could not be limited to lower than 55 feet within a quarter mile of qualifying ferry or train service, or 45 feet within a half mile. More

According to Wendell Cox in an article at, government policy of anti-sprawl restrictive land use is a major cause of the current housing “crisis”.

“The continuing geographic expansion of America’s metropolitan regions reinforces market preferences for houses at a price that can be afforded by middle-income households. For all the concerns of planners and radical environmentalists, their best laid plans are undone and distorted by market forces and customer preferences. “