Staedler: SB 50 is defeated; leadership needed now more than ever
San Francisco Sen. Scott Wiener discusses his landmark housing legislation during an exclusive fireside chat hosted by San José Spotlight. Photo by Ramona Giwargis.

One of the needed paths to recovery from California’s housing tragedy hit another legislative brick wall.

Senate Bill 50, authored by Sen. Scott Wiener, failed to get enough votes last week. In short, SB 50’s intent was to undo California’s decades long housing policies of single-family housing and suburban sprawl by inducing development near transit and job centers.

The weaponized rhetoric of NIMBYs has turned the argument on its head. Vilifying housing developers, housing advocates and Senator Scott Wiener is not the way to solve this problem. We need to come together and find the right solution to this tragedy. The truth of the matter is, we need all types of housing — homeless, affordable, veteran, missing-middle, teacher, market rate and everything in between. We need to charge full speed ahead on it all.

I believe that the California housing industry and affordable housing developers have the ability to create units which will house our the diverse community if we take down artificial development barriers. The excuses for cities across California not building enough, along with municipal zoning barriers, have been around so long that they have been accepted as unchangeable doctrine. These range from claiming projects aren’t “viable and sustainable” to demanding “sensible growth.”

If you keep repeating the phony excuses, they become accepted by the community as rational objections that housing needs to be built elsewhere. It’s disingenuous and frustrating that such a highly educated region can allow for this to happen.

Another frustrating piece of this quagmire is the new NIMBY rhetoric being sent out via social media disinformation campaigns about why SB 50 and housing development in general is evil. Certain groups have derided SB 50 as driven by panic and bad data. Livable California features allies who claim SB 50 is a politicized experiment in “Shock Zoning Therapy.”

They also enlisted social justice advocates to reinforce their case. Their argument against building housing near transit — that the real problem is real estate speculation and empty housing units — isn’t a rational argument. Displacement is an issue that all cities need to deal with, but stopping all reasonable development until it is solved will only make things worse.

These groups oppose corporations and the brave souls trying to find a solution, but when pushed, they don’t step up and come up with ways to make the proposed legislation better.

The major supply and demand imbalance should be addressed as soon as possible — or it’s only going to continue to spiral out of control. We are at a crossroads that requires outspoken leadership from Gov. Gavin Newsom and Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins.

They need to pass major housing legislation in 2020. Per Newsom’s Jan. 8 news release, he has “proposed more than $1 billion of new, direct initiatives that create housing opportunities for homeless individuals.”

This is great, but will be useless unless we have sites to build that housing. The legislation proposed this year needs to be real and actionable without giving the bad actor cities throughout California an excuse for not building needed housing immediately.

There is an old saying in politics that “delay is denial” and we are living in the status quo of delay and in a state of denial that needs to be changed as soon as we can.

San José Spotlight columnist Bob Staedler is a principal at Silicon Valley Synergy, a San Jose-based land use and development consulting firm. His columns appear every first Monday of the month. Contact Bob at bob@svsynergy.com or follow @BobStaedler on Twitter.

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