May 27, 2019 - From the May, 2019 issue

South Los Angeles Forum Opposes SB 50

At a town hall gathering at Holman United Methodist Church in the days after SB 50 was put on hold for this year, community leaders and residents from South Los Angeles gathered to debrief and voice concerns with the tabled-for-now proposal. Below, Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson, community advocate Romerol Malveaux, and Coalition for Economic Survival's Larry Gross opine on the value of single-family neighborhoods and community concerns over displacement, gentrification, and affordability. TPR presents highlights of their remarks, edited for space.

Herb Wesson

“Many of us are fortunate enough that our neighborhoods are our legacy to our children. So when I see something like SB 50 ... I wonder what my children will inherit.” —Romerol Malveaux

Herb Wesson: Many of you here tonight are from this part of town. I’m so glad that you’re here. If SB 50 were to pass, sixty percent of the 10th district that I represent would be impacted. In Mr. Koretz’s district abutting mine, 45 percent of properties would be impacted. SB 50 would change the face of mid-city Los Angeles. I recognize, and we all need to recognize, that we have a housing crisis. We need to creatively come up with a way to try to fix that. Who better to do that than the people who live in the area? Who better to do that than us?

In LA we’re not doing our share, but we’re doing more than anybody else. We are creatively trying to come up with ways to deal with our housing crisis. Many of you moved to this area because something attracted you, whether it was the way that it looked, the schools, or whatever it was. That’s why people live in LA, in various communities. Different reasons brought you here.

I understand that there are people at the state whose hearts are in the right place. They’re right, we need more housing. But the way you do that is to come and meet with us. If you want to introduce a bill, it should be a blank sheet of paper and together we should write every word. Local control is critical.

I know this is a very emotional issue. I respect all of your emotion, but sometimes emotion and articulating what’s right is not enough to win a battle or lose a battle. Somebody has to focus on strategy, tactics, timing, and relationships. It’s because of that thinking, at the Council, that we have out-sparred Sacramento twice so far.

But that doesn’t mean we’re always going to be able to win. People are excited and happy because they think the bill is dead and it won’t be heard for a year. SB 50 is now in a dormant stage. It’s “in suspense.”

But I’ve been in Sacramento, and that’s where I learned how things get weird. People would sometimes say, “Herb, your thinking is weird," because nothing is dead in Sacramento. SB 50 is like a vampire, and it could be brought back to life. Some of us have to be the ones trying to protect our interests as we, the community, come up with what we believe is a fair approach to deal with the crisis that we have.

We were lucky this time, but now we’re going to have to figure out what to do next. If I could urge you as an organized group to make sure we educate our neighbors and try to grow the number of people who know what’s going on.

We have to continue to communicate with our state representatives. They have to hear from you. They need to hear your concerns. Don’t cuss them out. Lay out the facts. Lay out your genuine concerns about how we as a community have a right to be engaged in the community where we live, we sleep, we shop, and where our children go to school.

The other thing that we really have to do is come up with alternative solutions. The reality is we do have a housing crisis. As long as that crisis exists, we are exposed to having the state dictate to us how to address the problem. We have to stay united. We have to come up with alternatives. We have to lobby the state. And we need to educate our neighbors and our coworkers so they can understand and try to speak with unity.

Romerol Malveaux: I grew up in a single-family neighborhood. It was in the 40’s during another bad housing crisis. Soldiers were returning from the war and we were receiving immigrants from the south without a place to stay. Many of our homes were doubled up. We converted garages, and it worked.

One of the things about single-family neighborhoods was that it was all-encompassing. Many people came at that time, and the West coast was foreign to them. They didn’t know where to go for jobs. They didn’t know how to maneuver the social fabric of the times. But what you did have was neighborhoods. You had the expandability of your single family home. And somehow that held through the crisis.

So when we talk about single-family neighborhoods, we’re not even talking about housing. It’s more sometimes than just a place to sleep or eat. It’s also part of a neighborhood, the whole neighborhood. This is your safety net. These are the people that will help you when the earthquake comes. These are the people that might help because they’re next door. You know them, and they know you.


The other element about single-family places is the environment. The trees. The sidewalks. The ability to just walk. It’s aspirational. It’s the goal that you work towards. When I was growing up, you knew you were an adult when you were able to get your own home.

Today, many young people move back home. Sometimes it's so they can save up to make a down payment on their own home. They want it. It’s as American as apple pie.

Our neighborhoods are like our collective soul. There’s a sense of place about the architecture. You know when you move from one to another because you go from Victorian homes to Craftsman homes to the tile roof homes, and you see the beauty of all of it.

But then the question becomes “who gets to live in single-family neighborhoods?” and “how much money do you have to have to live in single-family neighborhoods?” Many of us are fortunate enough that our neighborhoods are our legacy to our children. So when I see something like SB 50, I get real concerned about whether it’s actually pulling my soul out. I wonder what my children will inherit.

Under SB 50, there would be more density. There will be new two-to-four unit lots down the street and, as long as what’s being built is under ten units, it doesn’t have to be affordable. Maybe you’re ok with the density in your neighborhood and see it as a chance to finally get your son out of your garage? The only problem with that is when the units come on board, they’re market rate.

Guess what? Your son can’t afford it. All of a sudden, the neighborhood starts to change.  It’s the people who can afford the neighborhood that start to move in. That’s a different kind of displacement.

The sensitive neighborhoods provisions in SB 50 were supposed to protect communities that are vulnerable to changing costs, displacement, and gentrification. Under the bill, these communities would be able to hold off on some high-density requirements until they have a plan in place to decide where to put the density. Now, I have had the good fortune of participating in some of the South East and South Community Plans, those for the West Adams and Crenshaw areas. And many of the elements that the state says has to be in a plan have already been done. There was a lot of really creative and grassroots analysis that produced the community plans. The idea that we have to go back and do it again, by the state’s guidelines, is disturbing.

Furthermore, these sensitive communities protections don’t apply to anyone who wants to build between two-to-four units on any single-family lot. They can all be market rate. There’s no affordability requirement for any of that. So when we talk about displacement there is a real concern.

If we have to densify, let’s do it locally. Where we can go to our council office and talk about what works and what doesn’t. because I can't afford to fly to Sacramento to talk to the Governor.

Because I can't afford to fly to Sacramento to talk to the governor. 

Larry Gross: The reality is that SB 50 is a real estate bill masquerading as a housing bill. It’s an enormous gift to corporate developers. Yes, we need more affordable housing, but for whom and at what cost? Unfortunately, the news media has framed this issue as being about white homeowners in the suburbs don’t want new neighbors. But that ignores the fact that it was tenants, homeowners, and progressives who came together on this fight against SB 50.
SB 50 will provide little to no affordable housing. For every 100 luxury units built, you need at least 30 or 40 affordable units to avoid displacement and gentrification. SB 50 will destroy the quality of life in neighborhoods, handcuff local governments, and provide windfall profits to large developers.
The tenant protections in SB 50 were meaningless. There was no way to enforce them.  They did nothing to address the fact that SB 50 would increase property values resulting in an increase in Ellis Act evictions across LA. In case you don’t know, the Ellis Act is a state law that allows for no-cause evictions if a property owner wants to leave the rental business. Another great state idea to handcuff local government. As a result of the Ellis Act, we have lost over 25,000 rent-controlled affordable housing units since 2001. We will see that rapidly increase if a bill like SB 50 were to pass.
I recently debated Senator Scott Wiener at the Los Angeles County Democratic Party where he was trying to get an endorsement for SB 50. I challenged him by telling him that if he really wanted a bill that addressed affordable housing, he should just apply SB 50 to major thoroughfares. Or he could limit those who can take advantage of SB 50 to nonprofit housing developers who are in the business of producing affordable housing. 
Of course, he didn’t respond to that. I added that single-family homeowners are not all wealthy suburban people. Many are low-income homeowners who have owned the property for generations and hope to hand that property down to their children. Many are working class and union members who have saved up their dollars to buy into the American dream of owning their own, single-family home. Wiener responded to that by being surprised that a progressive would defend single-family homes. I find it extremely surprisingly that a Democrat elected official would embrace Reagonomics and trickle-down theories that don't work.
Clearly we need to continue to fight as even though it seems as if SB 50 is dead, it is very much still alive.


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