Protesters hold signs as state Sen. Nancy Skinner speaks. (Jeff Shuttleworth/Bay City News)

Housing justice protesters disrupt Wiener housing bill news conference

Senator announces SB 50 amendments adding flexibility for cities

State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, came to Oakland on Tuesday to promote a bill that would boost construction of apartment buildings and condominiums in an effort to address the state’s housing shortage.

But Wiener and other speakers at a news conference on the steps of City Hall were drowned out by protesters, including people from the homeless activist group Moms 4 Housing, who said Senate Bill 50 wouldn’t provide enough affordable housing.

Wiener has tried for several years to get the state Legislature to pass his bill, which he said would eliminate restrictive low-density zoning near public transit and job centers and create new zoning standards for those areas. SB 50 must pass the Senate Appropriations Committee and then the full Senate by the end of January in order to move forward in the new legislative session.

Wiener told reporters after the noisy news conference ended that he’s “cautiously optimistic we will pass this to the Senate floor.” At the beginning of the news conference, Wiener said the legislation is needed because, “We have a terrible housing crisis in California.”

Wiener recently revised SB 50 to allow for more flexibility in how best to implement the legislation, such as creating a two-year delayed implementation period and allowing cities to craft their own alternative plans that meet the bill’s goals.

Under his bill, Wiener said cities won’t be able to limit density near job or transit centers and will be required to allow small and mid-size apartment buildings. For example, cities will be able to build taller in one area but shorter in another, or denser in one area but less dense in another, he said.

SB 50 guarantees that up to 25 percent of units must be affordable, protects tenants by restricting demolitions of sound housing and has a five-year delayed implementation in low-income communities that are at risk of gentrification, Wiener said.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, and other elected officials joined Wiener at the news conference to speak in support of his bill. But their remarks were mostly drowned out by a large group of housing activists who loudly shouted slogans such as, “Affordability — the rent’s too high!” and “Housing for people, not for profit!”

Members of Moms 4 Housing have occupied a Magnolia Street home in Oakland owned by a real estate investment firm. The group on Tuesday chanted “Give the moms a home today!” and, “Where’s the Affordable Housing?”

When a representative from the California Association of Realtors tried to speak, the protesters booed her and shouted, “No more speculators!”

Jeff Shuttleworth, Bay City News

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Protesters confront Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf at a news conference on a bill aimed at creating more housing. (Jeff Shuttleworth/Bay City News)

State Sen. Scott Wiener talks to reporters about his housing bill. (Jeff Shuttleworth/Bay City News)

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