Medicare for All. The Green New Deal. Overturning Roe v. Wade. These national topics captured headlines, but perhaps more important to California is California Senate Bill 50.
If passed, Senate Bill 50 would legalize anything up to quadruplexes in areas, like most of Walnut Creek, where building anything other than single-family homes is currently illegal. The bill legalizes four-to-five story buildings in larger counties, including Contra Costa, in areas close to train stations like Walnut Creek’s BART station, certain bus stops, and “job-rich” areas. Unless, per recent amendments, cities develop plans to add the housing units as these mid-rise apartments would, if these plans do not increase traffic and equally build housing in affluent and low-income areas.
Senate Bill 50 proponents like Kevin Burke, a member of the pro-housing East Bay for Everyone, believe “housing has gotten unaffordable in large part because we’re building a lot less of it than we used to,” because “cities have largely decided to change the rules to make it harder to add… housing”. Walnut Creek built most of its housing in the 1960s and 1970s. Burke supports SB 50 because the bill “should make it easier to add the same amounts of housing we used to, [lowering] rents and housing prices” and the “denser housing” SB 50 legalizes “is… better [environmentally] than… building… suburban sprawl. Burke estimates that “if SB 50 is wildly successful, Walnut Creek will increase its housing supply by about 2% [annually].”
However, others oppose SB 50. In an October interview with the Page for a previous article, Deepa Varma of the San Francisco Tenants Union criticized SB 50 because it “fuel[s] increased speculative prices on land, undercut[s] local affordable housing efforts, and [encourages gentrification].” Varma also stated that “the SFTU remains strongly opposed to SB 50 after… [the recent] amendments,” because they “do nothing to address the concerns we raised, [or] the concerns [of] the SF Board of Supervisors,” namely “ensuring that SB 50 does not apply within areas in San Francisco subject to a local community plan [resulting] in increased density and affordable housing benefits”, allowing cities in “hot-market cities like San Francisco, which is meeting or exceeding… goals for [luxury] housing” to develop plans before 2026, exempting from SB 50 “areas with a history of community gentrification and discplacement,” raising affordable housing requirements, tenant protections, and increasing transportation funding.
In an October interview, Rebecca Bauer-Kahan’s office stated that she opposed SB 50, “because [she] believe[s]… local cities and counties have the best perspective on… zoning,” and “a one size fits all solution is not the best way to encourage housing growth.” Rebecca Bauer-Kahan’s office is “in the middle of an extensive analysis” of SB 50’s amendments, but “before [completing] that analysis… her position has not changed.” Senator Steve Baker’s office declined to comment.