SB 50 Impacts

SB 50 Overview

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Impact Analysis:

This SB-50 Impact Analysis is based on a deep dive into its implications by coalition partners and their attorneys.  The key to understanding the impacts of SB 50 is understanding its interaction with other existing state housing laws previously modified by its author; most notably the State Density Bonus Law and the Housing Accountability ACT. 


In summary, SB 50 is a Real Estate not a Housing Bill for the Affordable Housing that California needs.

Senate Bill 50 Rewards Unchecked Speculation, Will Kill Cherished  Neighborhoods, Severely Gentrify Working-Class Areas and Significantly Worsen Housing Affordability. SB 50 Will Displace Tens of Thousands of People. 

1) SB 50 wipes out all single-family zoning in the below “transit” areas:

SB 50 bans cities from rejecting big residential luxury developments containing a small number of affordable units if A) they are proposed within a ¼-mile radius of a busy bus stop, or B) within a 1/2-mile radius of any rail or train stop.

2) SB 50 wipes out single-family zones in 1000s of neighborhoods

SB 50 overturns single-family zoning in areas “above-median income, jobs-rich, with good public schools” that lack major transit (i.e., it allows tall apartments next to houses in areas that have good schools and jobs nowhere near transit).

3) Rewards construction of 85-ft towers next to single-famly homes.

SB 50 encourages 75-ft and 85-ft-tall luxury towers in single-family areas that are either too close to transit or too close to jobs and good schools. The height limit is NOT 45 feet and 55 feet, as Sen. Scott Wiener falsely implies in SB 50. Density Bonus allows up to +30 additional feet.

4) Cities can’t stop a luxury tower unless it hurts public safety.

SB 50 is weaponized by the Housing Accountability Act of 1982, which was quietly amended by Skinner/Wiener in 2017. It bans cities from rejecting any “density bonus” project unless the developer “puts public safety at risk.”

5) Cities can’t reject demolitions in the new SB 50-targeted areas.

Weaponized by the Housing Accountability Act, SB 50 prevents cities from fighting demolitions that make way for housing towers in “jobs-rich, good schools areas” and “transit” areas. The bill tells developers to sue, if challenged by a city.

6) SB 50 forces ‘sensitive communities’ to upzone themselves by 2025

SB 50 openly threatens “sensitive communities” — low-income, diverse areas. It requires them to upzone their Community Plans in 5 years to conform to SB 50, annihilating their homeowner areas, a direct attack on starter homes. If not, Wiener’s SB 50 will do it for them.

7) Turns developers into the fox guarding the rental hen-house

SB 50 utterly fails to protect renters. Only those cities who registered their renters and closely track vacancies can stop developers from lying about rental history.

8) SB 50 puts developers in charge of their own planning.

SB 50 turns 1000s of streets into density-bonus-on-steroids, where cities have NO say. Developers choose their own incentives from a menu of rewards and waivers.

Below is a sample of existing local development standards & planning tools. SB 50 lets developers toss out up to 3 of them, including height limit:

  • Setbacks: Areas for trees, green belts, side yards, can be cut.
  • Floor area ratio: Building size/density can grow 47% to 297%. 
  • Parking: Developers can build apartment towers with NO PARKING.
  • Environmental sustainability: Any development standard adopted by a city, that isn’t state law, can be ignored by developers. Local Rules for open space, trees, light

    Historic buildings/zones. Developers can buy and demolish any home not on the CA Registry of Historic Resources. Historic “zones” lose ALL protection. Only single buildings that seek & meet the tough Historic Resources code are safe from demolition.

  • Onsite open-space: Courtyards and balconies can be killed. 
  • Historic buildings/zones: Developers can demolish buildings not on the CA Registry of Historic Resources. MANY, including HPOZs, aren’t!

9) SB 50 Turns Bus Routes into Land Wars: Bye-Bye San Diego

From Boyle Heights to Oakland, SB 50 allows bus agencies to upend single-family zoning, a radical concept. By shortening bus stop “headways” (how often a bus picks up at a location) to 15 minutes, bus agencies can override single-family zoning within ¼ mile of a bus stop and developers can erect 65-foot-tall buildings the cities can’t reject.

How fast can this happen? Buses don’t need rail construction, so in 2018, San Diego’s MTS Transit Optimization Plan revamped its bus routes in just six months.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer endorsed SB 50 very early. It’s possible he didn’t realize that the opaque and misleading SB 50 will destroy his constituents’ communities. According to the San Diego MTS Transit Optimization Plan: “The changes added significantly to the network of high-frequency services (15 minutes or better), as well as shortened some travel times.”

Reality Check: Nobody wants to be The Next San Francisco, Sen. Scott Wiener’s Hometown

  • San Francisco’s nexus study shows that for every 100 new luxury units, 30-40 affordable units are needed just to stay even. SB 50 turns our gentrification gap into a gentrification chasm. SB 50 will NOT require luxury developers to make 30% to 40% of their units affordable.
  • Transit Agencies can easily add a “high-frequency bus stop” on any street, thus creating a “transit” zone that allows 65-ft-tall buildings. S.F. would lose virtually ALL single-family zones.
  • SB 50 is strongly anti-family, lavishly incentivizing 1-bedroom luxury units that come without a space for children to play, or even room for a tree.

Please join us in fighting SB 50, by Joining Livable California and contacting our our Southern California allies who did this analysis with us at / FB: PreserveLA

Impact On Renters:

How SB 50 Hurts Renters Across California

1) Worsens the Gentrification/Displacement Crisis: Rental buildings are “protected” from demolition for set periods under SB 50. But the neighborhoods aren’t. Landlords will raise the rents to benefit from luxury apartments rising nearby.

Then, when SB 50’s seven-year “protection” period ends on rental buildings, the ripple effect will devastate working-class areas, as widespread demolition begins — demolitions that cities cannot challenge under SB 50. Lines drawn by politicians can’t stop human displacement. As the 2017 UN Report warned, when housing is a commodity, the global investors show up.

2) Relies on a Non-Existent Database to “Protect” Renters: Few cities keep track of the names of renters and when units are occupied or vacant. Los Angeles DWP admits the city no longer has a way to track even the basic overall vacancy rate.

SB 50’s inability to overcome this data black hole invites investors to buy out renters for small cash sums and then, without fear of punishment, claim the building was vacant for 7 years and proceed to demolition.

3) SB 50’s Luxury Units Will NOT Trickle Down to Renters or Retirees

Last year, 83% of apartments built in California’s three largest cities were unaffordable luxury units. Rents and homelessness soared in these cities. SB 50 creates market-rate housing containing a small (as yet undefined) percentage of affordable units.

Research shows it takes 25 years for luxury housing to trickle down. The non-partisan California Legislative Analyst agrees, stating in its 2016 Perspectives on Helping Low-Income Californians Afford Housing: “Housing that likely was considered ‘luxury’ when first built declined to the middle of the housing market within 25 years”.


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