Alameda County — Few in California will contest the assertion that a serious shortage of affordable housing exists, but local officials say that a pair of housing bills recently signed into law aren’t the solutions the state needs.
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bills (SB) 9 and 10 earlier this month with the stated intent of expanding housing production, streamlining housing permitting and increasing density to create more inclusive and vibrant neighborhoods across the state.
Opponents to the bills argue that the state has overstepped its authority by applying a one-size-fits-all solution to the housing crisis, and diminishing or eliminating the ability of municipalities to manage local zoning. In response, the grassroots organization Californians for Community Planning has launched an effort to put a voter initiative on the Nov. 2022 ballot that will, if passed by voters, amend the state’s constitution to restore local control over local zoning issues.
“It reaffirms that land use and zoning is a municipal local affair, which is what our constitution currently says,” explained Pleasanton Mayor Julie Testa, who is a member of Californians for Community Planning. “We’re really just asking to reaffirm our California Constitution with this, because the state has overreached their authority in passing these and other unfunded mandates.”
Under SB 9, a homeowner is allowed to split a lot and build up to two housing units on each half. While there are some restrictions, including a minimum lot size and a requirement that the homeowner must occupy one of the units for at least three years, the legislation allows the construction of multiple units without regard for current zoning. A lot previously zoned for a single-family home can be modified to support four housing units. Local municipalities are prohibited from enforcing zoning restrictions as long as the conditions set forth in SB 9 are met.
“SB 9 will open up opportunities for homeowners to help ease our state’s housing shortage, while still protecting tenants from displacement,” said Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-39, who was one of the authors of SB 9. “And it will help our communities welcome new families to the neighborhood and enable more folks to set foot on the path to buying their first home. I’m grateful for the governor’s partnership and our shared determination to turn the corner on California’s housing crisis.”
Authored by Sen. Scott Wiener, D-11, SB 10 allows local governments to approve the construction of up to a 10-unit apartment building in areas currently zoned for single-family residences. provided the lot is close to mass transit or in an existing urban area.
“California’s severe housing shortage is badly damaging our state, and we need many approaches to tackle it," Wiener said. "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 rezone, and SB 10 gives cities a powerful new tool to get the job done quickly.”
Newsom acknowledged that SB 9 and 10 are controversial during a press conference on housing issues. He also issued a signing statement related to SB 10, cautioning regulatory agencies to look for and address unplanned effects of the bill.
“While the benefits of this bill are promising, certain provisions may have unintended impacts on affordable housing projects that use density bonuses, as well as possible Fair Housing implications based on how jurisdictions may choose to implement its provisions,” wrote Newsom in an SB 10 signing statement. “Therefore, I am directing the Department of Housing and Community Development's newly established Housing Accountability Unit to vigilantly monitor the implementation of this bill at the local level, and if needed, work with the Legislature to proactively address any unintended consequences, should they arise.”
Testa said that at least one lawsuit has been filed in response to SB 10. It asserts that the state’s attempt to override local zoning is unconstitutional. She said that suing the state is an option, but she believes that establishing a constitutional amendment will ultimately be a more effective way to return local zoning decisions to local governments.
“There are different remedies,” Testa explained. “Suing on one bill does not cure the other bill. A constitutional amendment will cure the entire issue and put it back to where the California Constitution intended it to be ― saying that zoning and land use is, in fact, the authority of the local municipality.”
The proposed initiative has been submitted to the Office of the Attorney General, said Californians for Community Planning proponent Jovita Mendoza.
“They review title, summary and financial impacts to the state, which we don’t think there is any,” said Mendoza. “Having an issue for land use doesn’t cost the state anything. Once that’s done and they give us their blessing, then we have 180 days to collect 1 million signatures. We’re hoping that we get those pretty quickly. Then it goes on the ballot for November 2022. It’s going to be work, but anything worth anything is work.”