September 28, 2021 - From the September, 2021 issue

CityLab's Sarah Holder on CA Housing Policy Post Recall

Published originally by CityLab, and excerpted here with permission, CityLab's Sarah Holder (@sarahsholder) examines what lies ahead for California housing policy in light of Governor Newsom's victory in the September 15th recall election. Holder correctly anticipates that the recall's failure would usher the governor's quick signature of SB 9 & SB 10, effectively eliminating R-1 zoning in California, and reports on the state legislature's new appetite for using state powers to usurp local planning decisions. Excerpts from the piece are presented here, please find the full article as originally published on CityLab.

Sarah Holder

"While the bills [SB 9 & SB 10] are more modest than their predecessors, they could pave the way for more substantial future zoning changes."—Sarah Holder

Lost in the shuffle of ballots being cast for or against ousting incumbent Governor Gavin Newsom was the fact that in August, after years of failed efforts, the California legislature passed two bills that could shift the way housing gets built in California. Senate bills 9 and 10, which together would functionally eliminate single-family zoning across the state, have been sitting on Newsom’s desk waiting for a signature or a veto. 

For years, efforts to reform zoning in California have met opposition in the state legislature, and from constituents. Most recently, Senate Bill 50, a proposal championed by Senator Wiener that would have allowed dramatically more multifamily construction near public transit or job centers, failed to pass in 2020 in its third iteration, even as other U.S. cities and states, including cities in California, joined a trend of legalizing denser development. 

With the passage of SB9 and SB10, the state legislature has signaled a new appetite for using state powers to achieve zoning changes, says [California YIMBY’s Matt] Lewis. While the bills are more modest than their predecessors, they could pave the way for more substantial future zoning changes. The Los Angeles Times editorial board called SB9 a “proof-of-concept bill,” writing that rather than transform whole blocks, “[i]t’s about showing people that adding a little density and a few more homes won’t destroy their neighborhood.”

Meanwhile, familiar concerns are being voiced against SB9 and 10, coming not only from those who are resistant to denser development in their backyards, but from affordable housing advocates who argue that building more housing won’t on its own create opportunities for the lowest-income renters, or the thousands who are currently unhoused. “Our belief is that, yes, we need to produce more homes,” said Lisa Hershey, the executive director of Housing California. But she argues that the bills would mostly help people with “middle or higher incomes” because it doesn’t specifically incentivize affordable housing construction.
The impact of SB9, which was introduced by Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins, may be initially modest: In July, UC Berkeley’s Terner Center estimated the bill would enable the creation of around 700,000 that would not otherwise be feasible, and Lewis says that amendments to the bill to introduce owner-occupancy requirements may bring that number down to 620,000. Of those, it’s not certain how many property owners will actually build. But already, similar steps California has taken since 2016 to ease restrictions around the building of accessory dwelling units have spurred a backyard building boom: The state saw a ten-fold increase in ADUs constructed from 2016 to 2019.


Meanwhile, SB10 would allow cities to bypass bureaucratic processes like the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in some cases, and act quickly to densify.

“There are definitely cities that want to zone for more housing. And they struggle because of CEQA. It’s just too lengthy and expensive, and they get sued a lot,” said Wiener, the senator. “They told us they want a more streamlined process. And so I think, over time, we’ll see more and more cities using SB10.”

Excerpts from this article are presented here, please find the full piece as originally published on CityLab.


© 2024 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.