La Jolla planners voice opposition to ‘deeply flawed’ state housing bill

State Sen. Toni Atkins, who introduced SB 9, spoke about it at the La Jolla Community Planning Association meeting June 3.
State Sen. Toni Atkins introduced Senate Bill 9 in December and spoke about it during the La Jolla Community Planning Association meeting June 3.
(Courtesy of Sen. Toni Atkins’ office)

The La Jolla Community Planning Association dedicated more than an hour of its June 3 meeting to a controversial housing bill making its way up the state legislative chain and eventually decided to resist it.

Senate Bill 9 would ease the process for a homeowner to create a duplex or subdivide an existing lot. While those who support the bill say it would create more opportunities to build housing, opponents call it “deeply flawed.”

State Sen. Toni Atkins, a Democrat who represents the 39th District, which includes La Jolla, introduced the bill in December and presented to LJCPA last week in an attempt to ease concerns about it.

Unconvinced, LJCPA voted to send a letter opposing the bill to appropriate state representatives.

“For me, housing is a security issue,” Atkins said. “It’s about helping more Californians achieve homeownership or a place to call home. We know we need an estimated 1.8 million homes in California to meet our own housing demand. … On average, we build 80,000 new homes a year.”

She said SB 9 “establishes a maximum number of units, allowing no more than four units on what is currently a single-family parcel.” The maximum currently is three.

She said the lot could be split into two parcels with a maximum of two units on each.

Comparing the bill to an accessory dwelling unit ordinance that passed in 2016 to allow homeowners to build an ADU on their property, she said: “Not everyone is going to choose to do a lot split or turn their home into a duplex, and not every lot is conducive. Just like everyone has not added an ADU to their property when that law was enacted.”

Atkins also tried to assuage fears that developers or out-of-town investors would come in and buy properties just to split and/or sell them.

“A developer cannot come in and create a duplex or a multiplex,” she said. “The bill takes into account single-family neighborhoods in terms of character, setbacks, floor area ratio, those kinds of things, to respect the local control. The intent of the legislation has not been … [to be] a tool for investors. It prohibits development of small subdivisions and ministerial lot splits on adjacent parcels by the same individual … to put the bumpers in place the community said they wanted.”

However, several LJCPA trustees and other community members cited concerns about government overreach, loss of local review of these developments, changes to property values and more.

Local resident Phil Merten spoke of the desirability of neighborhoods with single-family houses, saying “people save their whole lives” to live in single-family neighborhoods rather than multifamily.

“Major changes in zoning should only be made with the consent and the vote of the people,” he said. “When government legislature unilaterally changes long-established zoning regulations without the consent of the people, government loses the trust of the people.”

He said housing should be built in existing multifamily zones.

LJCPA trustee Greg Jackson, joined by other board members, said he was worried by language in the bill that would allow some of the permitting to be done over the counter, removing local planning group review.

“Through SB 9 there are cases where things that are now subject to community review are being moved out of that so there will be no opportunity for community review,” he said.

LJCPA President Diane Kane added that the reason the ADU ordinance has worked is that permits go before local planning groups for approval. “Working with the community is more desirable than uniformly allowing something to occur,” she said.

Trustee Mike Costello said he expected to see a “decrease in the quality of life” as a result of the bill, which he added “is going to give you diminished property values.”

Calling the bill “deeply flawed,” he moved that the board draft and send a letter of opposition, citing the comments given at the meeting.

Kane suggested sending the letter as soon as possible since “the bill is making progress through the Legislature as we speak.”

The bill has already cleared the state Senate and is being reviewed by the Assembly. It has been referred to the committees on local government and housing and community development.

LJCPA voted 13-2 to send the letter, with Jackson and trustee Dan Courtney dissenting on grounds that the letter was too vague.

The vote came two weeks after the La Jolla Shores Association’s executive officers drafted a similar letter opposing the bill. At LJSA’s May 12 meeting, its president, Janie Emerson, said the bill would “eliminate all planning, all [planned district ordinances, or PDOs] and all authority on the local level.” ◆