SB50 – Back in Action

Last year the Business Council worked extensively on SB50, an update to the State’s Density Bonus Law that allows for higher density development and expedited approval processes for eligible parcels near high quality transit corridors and job centers. We even wrote an extensive article about the bill, and made the trip to Sacramento to lobby for its passage personally. Unfortunately, under the continual guise of “local control” (the whole point because the locals can’t/won’t get it done) local jurisdictions continued to oppose the bill through last year, forcing it into the two year cycle. Some of the more ardent anti-gentrification advocates also opposed the bill, saying that it didn’t do enough to prevent displacement, despite multiple provisions preventing displacement, AND THE ENTIRE BILL BEING PREDICATED ON HIGHER LEVELS OF AFFORDABLE HOUSING. But alas, facts don’t matter much anymore in political circles, and their opposition was most likely a convenient “piling on” in the face of certain resistance from Cities and Counties anyway.

But now it’s back baby! And this time it’s been amended to give Cities and Counties more control, and a 2 year implementation period, so as to give them more flexibility. First off, since this seemingly cannot be stated enough, the only parcels eligible for the benefits of SB50 are ones that 1) are near high quality transit or job centers, 2) projects that must build MORE on site affordable housing than what is required – hence the density bonus people! That means that a normal project could still come along and build the normal 15 percent inclusionary and be approved normally, meaning that SB50 inherently provides more affordable housing than the status quo BY DESIGN. Sheesh!

It also explicitly exempted parcels that had existing tenants anytime in the last 7 years, so displacement also was not an issue. AND it allowed local jurisdictions to label certain areas as “sensitive communities” to further delay implementation, but again I digress, because that was all in the bill last year! So what has actually changed?

Well now you can delay implementation at the local level for self-defined “sensitive communities” until 2026, and potentially beyond that date, with consent from the State’s Department of Housing and Community Development in the form of a “certified community plan”, which itself has to go through a public hearing process (oh the irony is not lost on us here).

As far as additional anti-displacement language, well we haven’t seen exactly what else is in store for the bill. Again, it already has some of the most robust anti-displacement language we’ve ever seen in a housing bill, in that it projects are literally not allowed to displace existing tenants, at all, on those parcels that would be affected. Also, since the entire bill is predicated on more affordable housing, the market effect of gentrification is significantly reduced. Perhaps the bill could adopt local preference language based on the sensitive communities designation? It would still need to comply with federal anti-discrimination laws for housing, but it’s not like the feds are going to sue the state of Calif– well maybe if we had a different President. Though there are ways to prioritize locals in housing developments currently, people just need to get creative. But if anyone can creative on housing, it’s Senator Weiner.

The bill is up for consideration during the first legislative session of 2020, and is currently in the appropriations committee.


  1. RIP 50 (for now) on February 18, 2020 at 4:14 pm

    […] for most California residents, SB50, a bill that would have prioritized new housing development near job centers and high quality …–but was contingent upon providing higher levels of affordable housing–died last month in the […]