Governor signs disputed SB 9 and 10 housing bills into law

Gov. Gavin Newsom approved two measures intended to slice through local zoning ordinances.
Gov. Gavin Newsom approved two measures intended to slice through local zoning ordinances as California struggles with soaring home prices and an affordable-housing shortage.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Gov. Gavin Newsom approved two measures Sept. 16 intended to slice through local zoning ordinances as California struggles with soaring home prices, an affordable-housing shortage and stubborn homelessness.

He signed Senate Bill 9, the most prominent legislation, despite more than 240 cities and many people in La Jolla objecting that it will undermine local planning and control, ruin the character of single-family neighborhoods, worsen traffic and strain infrastructure.

Newsom also signed Senate Bill 10, which would enable cities to upzone areas close to job centers, transit and existing urbanized areas to allow up to 10 units on a property without having to go through the California Environmental Quality Act review process.

“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 announcing his approval.

SB 9, by state Sen. Toni Atkins, a San Diego Democrat representing Senate District 39, which includes La Jolla, would ease the process for a homeowner to create a duplex or subdivide an existing lot. It would require cities to allow up to four housing units on what was a single-family lot. It also allows splitting single-family lots so they could be sold separately.

“For too many Californians, the idea of owning a home, renting a house big enough for their family, or even just being able to live in the community where they work is a far-off dream,” Atkins said. “This law will help close the gap and make those dreams a reality.”

Critics argue that the legislation doesn’t require or guarantee affordable housing.

Newsom announced the state will put $1.75 billion into what his administration is calling a new California Housing Accelerator, which he said will speed building 6,500 affordable multifamily units that had been stalled for lack of tax-exempt bonds and low-income housing tax credits.

It’s part of $22 billion the state plans to spend to spur new housing and ease homelessness along with the new laws.

Opponents of the two bills and similar measures have already begun an effort to put an initiative on the November 2022 ballot that could negate them. The Californians for Community Planning Initiative would amend the California Constitution “to make zoning and land use local affairs and bring a halt to the centralized zoning and land-use directives coming out of Sacramento,” according to its website.

The website says the initiative was submitted to the state attorney general’s office last month and that signature gathering could begin after a 30-day comment period and time for the attorney general to craft the title and summary. Organizers would have 180 days to collect more than 1 million signatures to qualify for the ballot, possibly starting in November.

The initiative’s primary proponents are Redondo Beach Mayor Bill Brand, Yorba Linda Mayor Peggy Huang, City Council member Jovita Mendoza of Brentwood in Contra Costa County, former San Francisco Planning Commissioner Dennis Richards, and John Heath, president of the United Homeowners’ Association in South Los Angeles.

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 (D-39th District) introduced Senate Bill 9, which is intended to ease the process for a homeowner to create a duplex or subdivide an existing lot.
(Courtesy of Sen. Toni Atkins’ office)

Amid cities’ opposition to SB 9, Atkins included ways that local governments can block construction that might harm public safety or public health or benefit housing speculators. Property owners seeking to split a lot would have to swear that they plan to have one of the housing units as their principal residence for at least three years.

But 241 cities, joined by the League of California Cities, said in a letter to Newsom that that’s not enough to keep from undercutting local control, though they acknowledged that affordability and homelessness “are among the most critical issues facing California cities.”

The bill “would undermine the ability of local governments to responsibly plan for the type of housing that communities need, while usurping local democracy and the input of local residents,” said league Executive Director Carolyn Coleman.

Earlier this year, members of several La Jolla community groups, as well as other residents, voiced opposition to the bill.

La Jolla Shores Association President Janie Emerson said in May that the bill would “eliminate all planning, all [planned district ordinances] and all authority on the local level.”

LJSA board member John Shannon said: “I see it as a real big problem. I see it as more destroying of communities than keeping or promoting community fabric.”

In June, La Jolla Community Planning Association trustee Greg Jackson said, “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.”

Trustee Mike Costello said he expected to see a “decrease in the quality of life” as a result of the bill and said it will “give you diminished property values.”

Local resident Phil Merten said “major changes in zoning should only be made with the consent and the vote of the people.”

Local resident Lou Cummings had a similar sentiment, saying in an email Sept. 17 that state leaders are giving their constituents “the shaft.”

Atkins said in a statement to the La Jolla Light earlier this year that “because of all the variables that make a neighborhood what it is — size of lots, local ordinances, desire of homeowners to even use this option — not everyone will choose to turn their home into a duplex. This is simply a way to help provide options for homeowners and increase access for more families to have a beautiful place to call home.”

The advocacy group California Community Builders has said legislation approved by lawmakers this year would help narrow a racial wealth gap in California, where more than 60 percent of Whites own their homes, compared with 35 percent of Blacks and about 40 percent of Latinos.

California’s median sale price for single-family homes is now $811,170, up 21.7 percent since July last year.

SB 10 was co-authored by Atkins and state Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat who represents the 11th District, which includes San Francisco.

“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,” Wiener said.

In July, La Jolla resident Stephanie Steinberg told the Bird Rock Community Council that SB 10 contains no parking requirement if a development location is within a half-mile of a transit line and no height limit for the additional developments, though there is a 30-foot height limit in La Jolla because it is in the coastal zone.

Newsom said in a signing message that “certain provisions may have unintended impacts,” so he ordered housing officials to monitor the law’s progress.

Newsom also signed a bill extending a 2019 law designed to make it easier to build more housing throughout the state. That law had been set to expire in 2025 but now will remain in effect until 2030.

Lawmakers this year did not advance two other housing bills that would have made it easier to turn abandoned shopping malls into apartment buildings. ◆