Local relief after state housing bill stalled

Residents worried about high-density development being forced on Los Altos can breathe easier – for now.

The State Senate’s Appropriations Committee May 16 suspended State Sen. Scott Wiener’s controversial Senate Bill 50 for the year, legislation that would have encouraged construction of high-rise housing along major transit corridors, including El Camino Real and San Antonio Road. The bill would have overridden local regulations.

“I am relieved,” said Los Altos Mayor Lynette Lee Eng, who wrote a May 16 letter on behalf of the city protesting SB 50. “City councils should be able to retain the ability to make decisions with respect to the impact on a city’s character, budget and finance, infrastructure, traffic, safety and residential neighborhoods. We should empower our own elected officials, not have people in Sacramento telling us how to run things in our city.”

Led by chairman Sen. Anthony Portantino, the committee changed the bill from a one- to two-year status to allow more time for the bill to develop. The earliest the State Senate can resume discussion is January.

In her letter to Sen. Jerry Hill, also a member of the Appropriations Committee, Lee Eng called the bill “poor public policy” that “shows the difficulty of trying to craft local solutions at the state level without addressing the key policy question: how best to link commercial expansion more closely to building housing and the related infrastructure investment needed to support such growth.”

Hill, whose State Senate District 13 represents Los Altos, has not taken a position on SB 50, but he supports allotting additional time to consider it.

“Making SB 50 a two-year bill allows more time to develop this legislation so it better addresses California’s dire housing crisis and the concerns voiced by many communities throughout the state, who have said they want flexibility to achieve goals in ways that best suit their locales,” Hill said in a statement.

Wiener’s bill was his second attempt at placing high-density housing along traffic corridors. His first, SB 827, also died in the legislature in 2018 before reaching a vote. The San Francisco-based senator crafted the proposals in response to the state’s ongoing housing crisis, in which the number of jobs far outpaces construction of housing units – particularly in the Bay Area.

But, Lee Eng wrote, the “urge to ‘do something’ should not drive us to do the wrong thing.”

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