Newsom Must Call for SB50 Vote

by on July 30, 2019

New Report Gives Governor New Chance

The July 23 Sacramento Bee headline said it all, “Bad news for Gavin Newsom’s housing goals: New home permits are down in California.” According to the report issued by the California Department of Finance, “In the first five months of 2019, cities and counties issued permits for an average of 111,000 residential building units per year.” That’s down 12.2% from the same period in 2018.

The news was even worse for multi-family units like apartments. Permits for these typically more affordable units declined by a whopping 42.2 percent. That amounts to only 46,000 new units this year.

Remember when candidate Newsom set a goal of 3.5 million new units by 2025?

California is falling way, way short. In fact, the state is heading in the wrong direction.

These are economic good times. If California’s multi-family building is down over 40% now, an economic slowdown could bring new housing to a virtual halt in the state.

Status quo housing policies are failing California. Governor Newsom knows this. He has even said this publicly. But in his first year he has been content to increase affordable housing spending and potentially impose some difficult to enforce penalties on cities not making adequate housing plans (the penalties are triggered by lack of an adequate plan, not lack of construction).

Newsom has done nothing big to address a housing shortage that he knows is badly hurting the state.  As I describe in Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America, California cannot address its affordability crisis without building a lot more housing.

The Gavin Newsom that I thought I knew as San Francisco mayor would go bold. And he still can.

Call for a Vote on SB50

Let’s not beat around the bush: Newsom blew his handling of SB 50. He allowed Senate Leader Toni Atkins to go around his back to kill a bill that Newsom indicated he wanted to pass in some form.

But Newsom can regain control of the state’s housing agenda by publicly calling for a vote in 2020 on SB50. Here’s why this is so important.

Even millennials know the annual saga of Lucy holding a football for Charlie Brown and then pulling it aside, causing him to tumble over. Every year she promises it will be different but it never is.

That’s my take on Senator Atkins’ plans for SB 50 in 2020. After last week saw the California Lieutenant Governor, Treasure, Controller and Insurance Commissioner all announce support for SB 50, the bill’s backers expressed renewed excitement on social media.

But Aktins has not committed to hold an SB 50 vote next year. Instead she has highlighted her view that it takes time to pass legislation. In the context of SB 50 she ominously referred to one of her bills taking seven years to pass.

Atkins is not going to allow a Senate floor vote on SB50 in 2020 unless Governor Newsom publicly demands it. And while Newsom cannot legally force a vote, I do not see Atkins getting into a public fight with the governor over her power to stop the democratic process.

Atkins will certainly not publicly battle Newsom in the 2020 presidential year. Not when the Democratic Party is attacking Republicans for undermining democracy.

Atkins claim that she was protecting members by shelving the bill never made sense. Enough legislative Democrats who won close races in 2016 or 2020 could want to avoid taking a tough land use vote during a 2020 election year.

But given the housing slowdown, the time is now. Atkins could be in power until 2024. Waiting until 2021 will not make passage easier.

As a newly elected Governor who campaigned to boost new housing, Newsom  has the most leverage over state housing policy he will ever have. The state’s poor production data gives him a big opportunity. The longer he waits to take control of the housing agenda he campaigned on, the more he will be played by veteran politicos like Toni Atkins.

Will Newsom rise to the moment and demand a floor vote on SB50 next year? We’ll soon find out.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron and Director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, San Francisco’s leading provider of supportive permanent housing for homeless single adults. He is the author of Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America.

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Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw latest book is Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America. He is the author of four prior books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. He is also the author of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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