Skinner would support a pause on new housing in fire-prone areas

State Sen. Nancy Skinner predicts a housing moratorium in fire-prone areas would attract the same groups that oppose Senate Bill 50. PHOTO/Skinner senate office.

During a floor debate on Senate Bill 50, East Bay state Sen. Nancy Skinner said she would support a housing moratorium in areas across the state at risk of wildfires.

Her comments on Wedneday were in response to Democratic state Sen. Henry Stern of Calabasas, who lost his home in the 2018 Woolsey fire last year. He feared SB 50 would encourage greater density in fire-prone areas. “I can’t in good conscience support this bill today knowing that I’m making the problem worse,” he said.

Skinner responded, adding that the bill, authored by state Sen. Scott Wiener to promote greater housing density around transportation hubs, included flexibility for local governments to restrict new housing in these potential danger zones.

“I would support a bill that would put a moratorium on building in most high-risk fire areas,” Skinner said, directing her comments to Stern. No bill calling for a moratorium currently exists. But she cautioned such a bill would be strongly opposed, for different reasons, by the same groups who oppose SB 50.

“The entire League of Cities would oppose such a bill and almost every entity that now opposes [SB] 50 would oppose such a bill,” she said. “So I think it is unfair to conflate this bill with increasing fire risk.”

Skinner then reiterated the negative response a moratorium would receive. “You watch. That would be so controversial,” she said.

SB 50 failed in the state Senate on Wednesday, falling several votes short of passage to the Assembly. A second vote on Thursday rendered the same fate for SB 50.

But Skinner, one of SB 50’s biggest supporters, argued for its approval on Wednesday. In her speech on the senate floor, Skinner urged for the need to quickly increase the supply of new housing in the state.

“We have a serious housing shortage in California. While that shortage alone is not the sole cause of our very high cost of housing, it is the most significant cause,” Skinner said. Areas like the Bay Area, where high job-growth areas, coupled with a dearth of new housing ,is where exorbitant home and rental prices are the highest, she said, along with gentrification.

Several decades of exclusionary zoning across the state also helped create the current housing crisis, Skinner said.

“That downzoning resulted in exclusive neighborhoods. It resulted in the situation where those neighborhoods with the best schools, the best parks, the best amenities, and where fewer and fewer people can live.”