Press Release, January 2018

Contact: Rick Hall, chair, Livable California / [email protected]

SB 50 is Back and the Media Must Rev Up its Understanding of its Impact

Livable California and its allies call on the California media to show a deeper understanding of the war over Senate Bill 50, whether it be the Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Sacramento Bee, San Diego Union Tribune, Orange County Register, KNX, KOGO or KCBS.

Coverage of SB 50, a state takeover of local planning, is filled with bad data, disproven housing unit figures, disproven housing approval data, and the failed theory of building “trickle down” luxury housing as a way to create affordability for the rest of us.

On Jan. 7, state Sen. Scott Wiener unveiled a new version of SB 50. His timing gave the public and legislators very few days to understand complex changes before Jan. 21, when SB 50 either dies for good — or passes the California Senate Appropriations Committee.

The media are crucial in explaining SB 50 in this pressure cooker period. So far, the media has missed the mark. One very troubling example is the media’s citing of the false “3.5 million” housing shortage figure. This untrue data, conjured up by McKinsey & Co., has set off panic in the legislature, driving bad ideas and bad bills like SB 50.

Keith Gurnee, urban planner, former San Luis Oblspo City Councilmember, member of California Planning Roundtable, and board member of Livable California, says:  “I’m scratching my head and so should the legislature, in hearing about upcoming changes to SB 50. California’s growth has slowed way down, as expected, and key cities are soaring past their housing goals. SB 50 is missing the boat completely. It urges vast new luxury housing the author, Sen. Scott Wiener, says will trickle down to the rest of us. We need to focus on financing actual affordable housing and stop being diverted to this time-wasting debate Mr. Wiener wants to have about trickle-down.”

Isaiah Madison, an urban planner and community leader in South Los Angeles who is allied with Livable California, says:  “In broad discussions I’ve had with black community leaders in South Los Angeles, we cannot see any outcome from SB 50 — including any amendments — that make this fatally flawed bill anything but an open invitation to gentrification and destruction in South L.A., the largest black community in the western U.S. You will see black communities fighting SB 50.”

Rick Hall, of San Francisco’s Cultural Action Network, an advocate for the poor in the Mission District, and board member of Livable California, says: “Early leaks about changes to controversial SB 50 clearly show that Mr. Wiener has not found a way to avoid massive displacement of people, and upheaval and demolition of poor communities in major cities, including the Mission District. Mr. Wiener cannot have vast expansion of big luxury buildings and serve the poor at the same time — period.”

Below is our list of the fatal flaws in SB 50 that we understand will survive in Wiener’s updated bill, or be added as amendments to Wiener’s updated bill due out Monday.

  • Thousands of single-family streets will be changed to fourplex zoning. See our map here.
  • Thousands of apartment and single family communities near transit will be rezoned to allow 4-story to 8-story buildings. See our map here.
  • Diverse “sensitive communities” will be forced to decide where to “upzone” and gentrify. Wiener is giving them a little more time to upzone their communities than in his original SB 50, with equally devastating outcomes.
  • 400+ California cities will be forced to give up power over their Community Plans, which state officials would now approve or reject. 
  • Controversial exemptions for a few well-off counties, including Marin, will remain, protecting them from 4-story to 8-story buildings. See our map here.
  • Changes Wiener made in hopes of silencing tenant’s rights groups will fall far short.
  • The 3.5 million lie that is driving this experimental & reckless bill has been fully disproven.

See Embarcadero Institute’s original study here of the 3.5 million false data. We recommend the media look to this independent institute, the only think tank in California that produces timely, accurate data about the impact of proposed state housing bills and existing laws.

Another good source, though not timely, is the Berkeley Law team led by Eric Biber.

Some biased, inaccurate and unhelpful think tanks include Terner Center, which produces poor reports funded by compromised sources, as explained in this investigation by award-winning news site