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The guy who killed SB 50 wants to fix California’s housing crisis with license plates

The guy who killed SB 50 wants to fix California’s housing crisis with license plates
Homes in an Alhambra neighborhood in 2017. (Los Angeles Times)

For a while there, it looked like California lawmakers were ready to support the kind of dramatic change needed to finally ease the state’s crushing housing crisis.

San Francisco Sen. Scott Wiener’s bill to override local zoning and allow mid-rise apartment buildings near transit and job centers, even in single-family neighborhoods, cleared two committees and had support from labor, environmental groups and some big-city mayors. Gov. Gavin Newsom said he wanted a package of housing bills from the Legislature, and the details of the bill were still under active negotiation.

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In short, Senate Bill 50 appeared to have momentum.

Until Thursday, when Sen. Anthony Portantino, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, unceremoniously shelved SB 50. Portantino announced at the beginning of the committee hearing that the bill would not move forward this year, although it could be voted on in 2020.

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Committee chairs hold tremendous power to make or break bills, and Portantino — a Democrat from La Canada Flintridge — clearly dislikes Wiener’s approach, which is to force cities to allow more construction in select areas.

Portantino said SB 50 “isn’t the right fix at this time.”

What, then, is Portantino’s proposal to address California’s massive affordable housing shortage?

License plates.

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The senator authored Senate Bill 509 to create a specialized “California Housing Crisis Awareness” license plate program. As if driving past sidewalks lined with tents wasn’t enough to raise awareness of the state’s dire housing and homelessness crisis? Money raised through the sale of the specialty plates would go toward an existing program that helps moderate-income people buy homes.

C’mon! That’s not a solution. It wouldn’t even offer a Band-Aid for the human suffering and economic damage caused by the state’s massive housing shortage, which stems from a decades-long failure to construct enough homes to keep up with population growth and restrictive zoning that dramatically limits the number of homes that can be built.

So it’s pretty appalling when a senator chooses to kill SB 50 — which is a serious effort to get at the root causes of the housing shortage — without even attempting to negotiate a compromise or offer amendments to address his concerns.

With leaders like this, don’t expect California’s housing crisis to end any time soon. Nor will you be able to express your concern about the problem on your car. Like SB 50, Portantino’s bill for the housing crisis awareness license plate was also shelved for the year.

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