From left: State Sen. Scott Weiner, Maya Rosas, Ray Major and Elyse Lowe take part in a discussion on California’s housing supply. / Photo by Vito Di Stefano
From left: State Sen. Scott Weiner, Maya Rosas, Ray Major and Elyse Lowe take part in a discussion on California’s housing supply. / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

At VOSD’s Politifest this past weekend, the number of the day was 50, as in SB 50. Virtually every panel and discussion at our housing and transportation summit eventually brought up the measure by Sen. Scott Wiener that would force local cities to allow more home-building near transit and job centers. The bill was put on hold last year, and will return in the next legislative session for further debate.

A few of the most interesting points about the bill that came up throughout the day:

Wiener on the ‘California Is Full!’ Argument

Virtually every time we cover SB 50 in particular, or even housing issues in general, I get a flood of emails and tweets proclaiming that “California is full!” and that trying to spur more development is the wrong solution to this problem. Instead, these people argue, anyone who has the audacity to want to live indoors should simply go somewhere else.

Wiener addressed that argument head-on during a panel on California’s housing supply:

“People seem to say, well, California’s full or San Diego is full or San Francisco is full. There’s lot of people who have pronounced that we’re full or my neighborhood is full and so the government should somehow acknowledge that. And I think as government and for me just as an elected official or just as a human being it’s none of my business where people want to move and if people want to move somewhere, they have a right to move there.

And that’s what California’s always been about. And so the idea that we would say, ‘Oh, the growth is too much. We have to stop it.’ Well, we’ve tried that. We went 50 years where we made it impossible to build enough housing and our housing production collapsed. You saw those numbers and guess what happened over that period? Our population went up by a lot. People come anyway. And it just causes all sorts of problems that we haven’t built the housing.”

Wiener on Atkins’ Role in SB 50

It was one of the major surprises of the past legislative session when SB 50 was suddenly put on ice for the year – and Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins declined to intervene. You might remember Atkins’ staff even tried to temper the criticism from that decision by making changes to her Wikipedia page about it.

VOSD’s Jesse Marx asked Wiener about how working with Atkins on the measure has gone. He seemed to place the blame for SB 50’s setback more on Sen. Anthony Portantino, the Senate appropriations chair, and praised Atkins’ efforts on housing:

“I think she’s been working with us and she’s been super supportive on so many housing issues. I think we’ve got a real chance of getting it done. She and I talk regularly, and she’s made very positive public statements. She’s committed to making some positive change. … I would say the process is a complicated one and the appropriations chair has a lot of authority to stop or delay bills. I think without her intervention, the bill might have been killed entirely. The bill is still alive and I think the bill is still alive because of Toni Atkins. I give her a lot of credit. She’s always been really collaborative with us on many housing issues.”

Gloria Won’t Commit to SB 50 Yet

SB 50, despite being a state measure, has become a central issue in the San Diego mayor’s race. City Councilwoman Barbara Bry has consistently vilified the bill and highlighted her opposition to it in campaign pitches.

“I support local control of the land use planning. It’s the basis of our democracy,” Bry said during the mayoral debate at Politifest. “I don’t support Sacramento dictating to us what gets built in our neighborhoods in San Diego.”

Bry’s opponent, Assemblyman Todd Gloria, has said he does think it’s appropriate for Sacramento to set some rules for local planning, but he also said multiple times at Politifest that he doesn’t necessarily support the measure either.

“Not as it’s currently constituted,” Gloria told the Gimme Shelter podcast. “I’ve spoken with Sen. Wiener and shared with some of the concerns that I have about the bill. I mean, I think we can get there eventually.”

I followed up with Gloria’s staff for more details about the specifics he’s hoping to secure in order to assure his support, but did not receive a response.

Pete Wilson Still Looms Large

It’s been 20 years years since San Diego’s Pete Wilson served as governor of California, but this week his presence loomed large in state politics.

A new Los Angeles Times podcast released this week examines the enduring impact of Prop. 187, the measure championed by Wilson that vilified immigrants and sought to bar them from many aspects of public life.

The measure passed, but was ruled unconstitutional by a judge in 1997. By that time, a Democratic governor opted to stop defending it. But the measure, of course, lived on in other ways.

“The hard feelings against immigrants — most notably those in the country illegally, but if we’re honest, not always — was tapped all the way to the White House by one Donald Trump,” writes the Times’ Gustavo Arellano.

The California Legislative Caucus, meanwhile, had its own way of remembering Wilson and the legacy of Prop. 187.

The group released a video this week called “Thank You, Pete Wilson.”

“You scapegoated immigrants like my mom and dad in order to secure re-election,” San Diego Sen. Ben Hueso says in the video. Other Latino lawmakers in the video explain how the measure galvanized them to become public officials. Now Democrats hold supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature.

“Because of Proposition 187, I went to law school and came here to Sacramento,” says Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez in the video. Gonzalez chairs the powerful Assembly Appropriations Committee and is a candidate for secretary of state in 2022.

Assemblyman Todd Gloria says Prop. 187 offers “a roadmap on how to fight back against racist, xenophobic policies.”

Meanwhile, San Juan Capistrano Mayor Bryan Maryott, a Republican who’s challenging Democratic Rep. Mike Levin in the 49th Congressional District, touted an endorsement from Wilson this week. His campaign cast Wilson’s legacy much differently: “The Republican former California governor, U.S. senator and mayor of San Diego garnered significant bipartisan support and popularity, in a blue state, during his years in office,” campaign manager Richard Hernandez wrote in a press release.

Apps Announce Ballot Measure to Exempt Themselves From AB 5

For the last several weeks, backlash against AB 5, the law written by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez limiting the circumstances in which employers can classify workers as independent contractors, has been focused on freelance writers.

But this week, attention turned back onto gig drivers who secure work through apps like Uber, Lyft and Doordash. Those companies announced this week they’ll file a state ballot measure to weaken AB 5, namely by exempting those workers from its provisions.

“The proposed initiative would not compel the companies to offer Social Security or overtime benefits. It would, however, provide a guarantee of 120 percent of minimum wage for every hour worked and $0.30 per mile for gas and car expenses,” reports the Sacramento Bee.

“So, now we know @Uber @lyft & @DoorDash are going to spend $90 million to try and convince Californians to let them pay their driver $5.64 an hour. Sweet deal, if you can pay for it,” Gonzalez tweeted.

Uber has previously argued that they already comply with Dynamex, the state Supreme Court decision that informed the law, because it believes that drivers don’t actually carry out one of the central functions of the company – one of the provisions laid out by the court that would require a company to treat a worker as an employee.

County to Develop Conservatorship Program Following New State Law

San Diego County supervisors voted this week to develop a new conservatorship treatment program following new legislation that paves the way for expanded court-ordered care in San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco counties.

Sen. Scott Wiener’s SB 40 bolstered previous legislation allowing the three counties to create five-year pilot programs where court-appointed guardians oversee a person’s daily life without a previous requirement that patients try an outpatient program first. Wiener has said he hopes the change will allow more people in need to access longer-term housing and care.

But supervisors noted Tuesday that the program is unlikely to serve many San Diegans given the high bar required under the new law.

Indeed, Supervisor Kristin Gaspar said, the county’s initial analysis tallied just eight people who might be eligible.

Patients are considered eligible after an eighth involuntary hospital stay for psychiatric care in a 12-month period. These holds follow a determination that the person is a danger to themselves or others.

Board Chair Dianne Jacob and Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, who partnered to bring the item forward, acknowledged the impact of the new program would be limited but said it was nonetheless still worth pursuing to aid people with serious mental illnesses who may also be grappling with addiction or homelessness.

“We should utilize every tool that is available to us,” Fletcher said.

The county action comes less than a month after Mayor Kevin Faulconer, City Attorney Mara Elliott and Assemblyman Todd Gloria, a mayoral candidate, publicly urged county officials to enact the program.

Lisa Halverstadt

Golden State News

Correction: An earlier version of this post improperly attributed a quote praising Pete Wilson; the quote came from Brian Maryott campaign manager Richard Hernandez.

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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