Houses under construction. (Photo by Renaude Hatsedakis/Freeimages)

A bill that would have made it much easier for cities to approve high-density housing close to transit hubs and job centers failed again in the California Legislature last month.

Senate Bill 50 by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, fell short of passing a Senate floor vote with 18 senators voting yes and 15 voting no.

The bill also failed by the same margin Wednesday, but senators voted to allow it back for another shot after Wiener asked for a reconsideration.

“I think the takeaway from the defeat of SB 50 is that this is a really hard issue and the aggressive, bold action we need is going to be controversial,” Wiener said after the vote.

“The reason why it was so controversial … is because it’s a bill that makes significant change,” he said. “If it was a bill that didn’t do very much, it probably wouldn’t have drawn the excitement or opposition that it did.”

The bill would have essentially changed the zoning rules across the state to require local governments to allow developers to build taller buildings with more dwelling units if those buildings are within certain distances of “transit-rich” or “jobs-rich” areas.

It would have also required that those projects either include affordable housing or contribute money to a local affordable housing fund.

It was designed, in part, to outmaneuver local opposition to new housing by inserting state-mandated zoning rules into local jurisdictions, which in California have the final decision-making authority over land use.

Much of the opposition to the bill came from city and county governments, which have a long history of fiercely beating back state efforts to curtail local control over housing and land-use policies.

John Dunbar, mayor of Yountville in Napa County and president of the League of California Cities, said his organization agrees that the state needs more housing, but opposed SB 50.

“Any solution will require a long-term commitment that matches the scale of a crisis that has been decades in the making,” Dunbar said in a news release after the Jan. 30 vote.

Wiener, who had been pushing hard for the bill since 2018, called its defeat deeply disappointing but vowed to keep working on housing supply and affordability legislation.

“We’ll be introducing several housing bills, so stay tuned,” Wiener said.

“Fundamentally this is about addressing California’s debilitating housing shortage,” he said, noting that the state is roughly 3.5 million homes short of its need.

Kiley Russell writes primarily for Local News Matters on issues related to equity and the environment. A Bay Area native, he has lived most of his life in Oakland. He studied journalism at San Francisco State University, worked for the Associated Press and the former Contra Costa Times, among other outlets. He has covered everything from state legislatures, local governments, federal and state courts, crime, growth and development, political campaigns of various stripes, wildfires and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.