Real Estate

California Severely Curtails Single-Family Zoning

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 9 into law Thursday, legislation that allows up to four residential units to be developed on single-family lots throughout the state.

California’s Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 9 into law on Thursday, a piece of legislation that allows up to four residential units to be developed on most single-family lots throughout the state. The move came just two days after Gov. Newsom survived a recall election.

California has borne much of the brunt of the country’s housing affordability crisis over the past several years. Data from the California Association of Realtors shows that the state’s median home price increased 144 percent between 2000 and 2019 to $591,866. In April of this year, the state’s median home price exceeded $800,000 for the first time in history.

The news comes as other local governments throughout the state have made moves to address the issue as well — the city of Berkeley voted in February to eliminate single-family zoning by December 2022, and the City Council of San Jose is also going to consider a similar move in October.

“The housing affordability crisis is undermining the California Dream for families across the state, and threatens our long-term growth and prosperity,” Newsom said in a statement. “Making a meaningful impact on this crisis will take bold investments, strong collaboration across sectors and political courage from our leaders and communities to do the right thing and build housing for all.”

Proponents of the law applauded its ability to curb the housing crisis, as well as to rectify historic zoning laws that have perpetuated racial segregation. The new law will also include provisions to protect renters from displacement and preserve homes in historic districts and fire-prone regions.

Newsom also signed Senate Bill 10 on Thursday, establishing a new process to allow local governments to more quickly streamline new multi-family housing projects of up to 10 units built close to public transit or in urban areas. It will also make zoning requirements under the California Environmental Quality Act less stringent, in an effort to speed up development projects.

California’s severe housing shortage is badly damaging our state, and we need many approaches to tackle it,” Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and Senate Bill 10’s author, said in a statement. “SB 10 provides one important approach: making it dramatically easier and faster for cities to zone for more housing. It shouldn’t take five or 10 years for cities to re-zone, and SB 10 gives cities a powerful new tool to get the job done quickly. I want to thank the Governor for signing this essential bill and for continuing to lead on housing.”

Parts of the new legislation also had its opponents. Over 260 elected officials from cities across California signed a League of California Cities letter this week requesting Newsom veto Senate Bill 9 because “it does not guarantee the construction of affordable housing nor will it spur additional housing development in a manner that supports local flexibility, decision-making, and community input.”

Other groups expressed concern that the bill could drastically change the character of a neighborhood without consent of the community. Slow-growth group Livable California criticized the bill as a “radical density experiment.”

Meanwhile, affordable housing advocates criticized the bill’s lack of a mandate that a certain number of affordable homes be built.

“How is this helping people who are desperately in need of housing? It isn’t,” Susie Shannon, policy director for the advocacy group Housing Is a Human Right, told the Wall Street Journal.

On Thursday Newsom also signed Senate Bill 8, which will extend measures put forth in the Housing Crisis Act of 2019 through 2030, instead of expiring in 2025, as originally stipulated. Some of the act’s key provisions include the acceleration of housing project approvals and the limiting of local governments’ ability to downzone.

Newsom also signed AB 1174 the same day, “an urgency measure that makes changes to the existing streamlined, ministerial approval process for housing development in jurisdictions that have not yet made enough progress towards their allocation of their regional housing needs.”

About 6.1 million of California’s 7.5 million single-family lots will now be eligible for the development of duplexes or division under the new law, according to an analysis of SB 9 released in July by the Terner Center for Housing Affordability at the University of California, Berkeley.

Email Lillian Dickerson

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