Some California cities try to blunt new duplex law with restrictions on new developments

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As California is on the verge of allowing multi-family housing in neighborhoods previously reserved for single-family homes, some cities are rushing to enact restrictions on new development.

Senate Bill 9, which comes into effect Jan. 1, requires communities across California to allow duplexes, and in some cases four units, in most single-family home neighborhoods.

The law’s passage this summer came after years of debate about how to address the shortage of available housing that is causing the state’s housing affordability problems.

But opponents of the new law argue that it will invade neighborhoods of single-family homes with development that goes against the character of their communities and will result in excessive traffic. They also argue that licensed housing will not be affordable. Cities across the state, from Los Altos Hills and Cupertino in the Bay Area in Pasadena and Redondo Beach in Los Angeles County, are considering measures that would mitigate the effects of the new law.

Among other restrictions, local plans aim to limit the size and height of new developments, impose parking spaces and require that such homes be rented only to people with modest or low incomes.

“We want to make sure that we put in place the few permitted constraints,” said Redondo Beach Mayor Bill Brand, whose city is considering capping the number of homes allowed among other provisions. “It all happens very quickly and haphazardly as people try to figure out what they can and can’t do. “

It’s hard to overstate the magnitude of the changes the new law could have in California. Almost two-thirds of all residences in the state are single-family homes. And up to three-quarters of the state’s developable land is now zoned only for single-family dwellings, according to a UC Berkeley study. Plus, the “Californian Dream” has long been mythologized as living in a suburban single-family home with a backyard and barbecue.

When Governor Gavin Newsom signed the law in September, the state became the second in the country to eliminate zoning for single-family homes in most areas, after Oregon, which did so in 2019.

In other respects, however, SB 9 might not have a significant impact. The law does not prohibit the construction of new single-family homes. It only allows landowners to build duplexes – or quads – on their land if they wish. Plus, other zoning changes in recent years have already made it much easier for homeowners to build smaller second homes – known as grandma apartments, casitas, or secondary suites – on their single-family home zoned plots.

Indeed, researchers at UC Berkeley found that it would make financial sense for owners of just 5% of the state’s 7.5 million single-family lots to add more homes to their property according to the new. law.

Some proponents characterize SB 9 as a modest effort to spur growth in areas that have long been off-limits, and argue that many of the restrictions cities have planned are in fact attempts to keep people from building.

“It is unfortunate that some of these cities are trying to obstruct state law instead of adopting new housing, but this is the world we live in,” State Senator Scott Wiener said. (D-San Francisco), a supporter of the law and author of several of the most aggressive housing production bills in recent years.

Wiener said he expects state housing officials, which recently created a new department to investigate local compliance with state laws, to examine attempts to limit the effects. of SB 9 to see if they violate the law.

But some local officials say their measures represent legitimate efforts to maintain top development priorities. Under a proposed bylaw in the city of Pasadena, for example, those building under SB 9 may be required to plant a “minimum of two mature trees in place” from the city’s list of native and protected species, an layout which is likely to add costs to the project.

David Reyes, Pasadena’s director of planning and community development, said the city’s proposal is designed to protect Pasadena’s tree canopy and the requirement could be lifted if a builder showed the rule would render a duplex or an impractical quadruple.

“It’s going to happen,” said Reyes of SB 9. “We are not going to develop regulations that would be contrary to the intent or word of the law.”

“If we wanted to stop this,” Reyes continued, “we could have said,“ Make any parking lot underground. “”

In addition to Redondo Beach and Pasadena, Temple City and Hermosa Beach are among cities in Southern California that are discussing regulations that would limit certain developments under SB 9. Brand, which promotes a proposed constitutional amendment of the 2022 state restricting the state’s ability to override local development rules. , believes that many cities can pass regulations – some testing the limit of what is allowed.

“Ultimately, that will be something to be determined by a court,” he said.

Opposition to the law has also been fierce among some of the southern LA neighborhoods who fear the measure will fuel gentrification and the ongoing displacement of longtime black residents. In an effort to allay concerns, a late change to the law ahead of its passage said those who wish to divide their lot to build more housing must intend to live on the property for at least three years afterward. .

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