California Senate

Alameda County — One of two bills aimed at improving the availability of affordable housing was narrowly passed by the state assembly this week.

Senate Bill (SB) 10, authored by Sen. Scott Wiener, D - 11, allows local governments to approve the construction of up to a 10-unit apartment building in areas currently zoned for single-family residences. To qualify, the lot must be close to mass transit or be in an existing urban area.

The bill required 41 votes and passed with 44. There were 12 votes in opposition and 23 assemblymembers did not cast a vote on Aug. 23. Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D – 16) was among those who opposed the legislation. Sen. Steve Glazer previously voted to approve the bill when it passed the Senate floor on June 2.

In a published statement, Wiener noted, “California’s severe housing shortage requires many strategies, and making it easier and faster for cities to zone for multi-unit housing is a critical piece of the puzzle. This voluntary tool will help local governments throughout California fundamentally reshape their zoning in infill areas, and help our state climb out of the housing crisis we face. Today is a step in the right direction, and we must continue to build on this victory to end California’s housing crisis.”

Having now passed both the senate and the assembly, the bill will return to the senate for final approval before it goes to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk for his signature.

Another housing bill, SB 9 is still circulating in the assembly. It allows homeowners to divide their property into two lots and build two housing units on each lot. In effect, a property that once supported a single residence would be capable of supporting four housing units.

Opponents of both bills point out that development allowed under SB 9 or SB 10 does not require a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review or housing affordability. Further, SB 9 prohibits local governments from applying zoning restrictions that would inhibit property owners from modifying their property in accordance with the state legislation. The loss of local control over housing and zoning decisions is a major sticking point for opponents. Additionally, the bills fail to accommodate the impact of increased populations on local resources, like schools, roads, parking and public safety.

“SB 9 and 10 are wolves in sheep’s clothing,” said Pleasanton Vice Mayor Julie Testa in an interview with The Independent earlier this month. “They have absolutely zero affordability (requirements) in them. They destroy the CEQA requirements. They absolutely will destroy our neighborhoods and not resolve any of the affordability issues. What we have is proof from other areas that have put these kinds of zoning changes in place, and the production of housing was not affordable.”

In Dublin, Councilmember Sherry Hu said she understood California's need to provide affordable homes, but she wasn't convinced SB 10 would be an effective solution.

"I am concerned about the removals of the California Environmental Qualify Act (CEQA) requirement and the elimination of the local jurisdiction to decide the appropriate density and the use of properties," Hu said. "I am a strong advocate for local control over zoning and land-use decisions. The city should be managed by its local government that understands its community and provides the best access to the residents."

A sponsor of SB 10, Brian Hanlon, chief executive officer of California YIMBY, provided another perspective. He said legalizing small apartment buildings near transit and in urban infill areas reduces environmental impacts and slashes climate pollution.

"SB 10 will make it easier for cities across our state to approve these types of homes, and put us on track to more sustainable, affordable, inclusive communities,” Hanlon said.

Regarding SB 9, an open question remains as to whether additional dwelling units (ADU) will also be allowed on lots that feature two duplexes. Under current California law, every homeowner is permitted to build an ADU and a junior ADU on their property. SB 9 does not specifically exclude ADUs. As such, as many as six housing units could exist on what was previously a lot that supported a single-family home. A recent amendment to the bill requires an applicant to sign an affidavit stating they intend to occupy one of the housing units as their principal residence for a minimum of three years from the date of the approval of the urban lot split, unless the applicant is a community land trust or a qualified nonprofit corporation.

SB 9 could go to a vote as early as this week.

Testa concluded, “I am not willing to allow our neighborhoods and communities to be sacrificed to what we know will not improve the affordability issue.”

The Independent is still reporting on this issue. Check online at www.independentnews.com for the updated story.