State Bills Could Have Increased ELB Density

Bill Pearl

On January 30, 2020, SB 50, a sweeping bill that could have affected much of ELB, approached a state Senate floor vote. As introduced in December 2018, SB 50 by state Senator Scott Wiener (D, San Francisco) proposed to preempt (override) aspects of locally enacted single family home zoning, requiring cities to increase density and allow multi-unit residential buildings in single family neighborhoods Sacramento deemed “jobs rich” with high performing schools and near frequent bus or rail stops.

In early January 2020 Sen. Wiener amended SB50 to allow City Halls the “flexibility” to devise locally approved plans – on Sacramento allowed terms – that could put the Sacramento-demanded increased density in additional areas. On January 30, SB 50 as amended came to a decisional state Senate vote.

What happened alarmed ELB resident Corliss Lee, founder of the grassroots Eastside Voice, who grasped SB 50’s potential impacts immediately. Since neighborhoods near downtown were already densified by 1980’s City policies (that let developers replace single family homes with multi-unit “crackerbox” apartments), the likely Long Beach locations for SB 50’s increased density would almost certainly be in ELB.

Here’s City Hall’s record. On October 23, 2018, the Council’s “State Legislation Committee” (then comprised of chair Al Austin, vice chair Lena Gonzalez and member Rex Richardson) approved a “State Legislative Agenda” (general policies the City would follow in response to proposed Sacramento legislation) that included “oppose legislation that would reduce the City’s local land use authority” and “oppose legislation that preempts the City’s existing control over local matters.” In November 2018, the Council approve these policies for 2019 and has since adopted them for 2020.

In May 2019, Councilmembers Stacy Mungo and Al Austin went beyond and agendized a Council item to explicitly oppose SB 50. However on the Council floor, Councilman Rex Richardson offered a “friendly amendment” (to which Mungo and Austin agreed) that limited City opposition to SB 50 only “unless amended.”

But when SB 50 was amended in January 2020, LB’s Mayor and Council remained publicly mum, leaving publicly unclear the position of L.A. County’s second largest city.

On the January 30, 2020 vote, state Senator Lena Gonzalez (D), whose LB district includes much of 90808, voted to advance SB 50 to the Assembly. State Senator Tom Umberg (D), whose district includes 90815/90803 and west OC, remained silent, casting no vote. His silence (plus active opposition from L.A. area state lawmakers) produced the slender three vote margin that stopped the advance of SB 50…for now.

SB 50’s author immediately introduced two “placeholder” bills to advance similar “housing production” bills…and city staff has indicated it plans to update the Council on these developments At that time, a Council majority may or may not decide what, if anything, to do in response.

Just weeks before her SB 50 vote, state Senator Gonzalez voted in the state Senate Health Committee to prevent the advance of SB 640, a bill by state Senator John Moorlach (R, Irvine/Costa Mesa) that could have been a game changer in dealing with a vexing portion of CA’s homeless/vagrant population. SB 640 proposed to add verbiage to the definition of “gravely disabled” in CA’s current Lanterman-Petris-Short Act to let local officials hold for more than 72 hours and treat individuals instead of simply letting them wander helplessly in public places, sometimes conversing with voices others can’t hear, sometimes allegedly acting violently.

In the Jan. 8, 2020 Health Committee hearing, five affirmative Committee votes could have advanced SB 640 to the Senate Judiciary Committee for further discussion and possible amendments. Two Health Committee members (one Democrat and one Republican) voted “yes. But two Democrats – one of whom was Senator Gonzalez – voted “no.” Four Democrats, including Committee chair state Senator Dr, Richard Pan, MD (D, Sacramento) remained silent. The resulting 2-2 vote effectively killed SB 640 for the remainder of 2020.

Neither LB’s Mayor nor any LB Councilmember(s) agendized an item to take a position on SB 640 (which was pending since early 2018.)

The Council’s “State Legislation Committee,” consisting of three Councilmembers chosen by Mayor Garcia, doesn’t set policy but can recommend Council actions. In 2019, when comprised of chair Al Austin, vice chair Lena Gonzalez and member Rex Richardson, the Committee held no meetings of any kind during the 2019 Sacramento legislative session. In December 2019, Mayor Garcia named Councilman Richardson to chair the State Legislation Committee, picked Councilwoman Mary Zendejas as the committee’s vice chair with Austin remaining as its third member.

Whether City Hall’s actions (or inactions) on neighborhood impacting Sacramento bills prompts neighborhood groups to begin speaking-up for themselves on neighborhood-impacting bills remains to be seen.

Bill Pearl publishes, now in its 20th year online at


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