new state law forces cities to face big changes in housing density | Local News


Local authorities are scrambling to prepare for a new state law that is likely to bring significant high-density housing to a neighborhood near you.

The new law – State Senate Bill 9 signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on September 16, two days after pushing back a recall election – essentially abolishes single-family zoing across California and allows homeowners to divide their lots in four units.

The law aims to force cities that have not built enough affordable housing to respond to the state’s chronic housing crisis. The impact is likely to be acute in coastal communities.

“The biggest concern is that SB 9 removes some control over zoning decisions, opens the door to more development in single-family neighborhoods, and has no affordability requirement or a ban on using new ones. units as vacation rentals, ”Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo told Noozhawk.

The law will come into force on January 1. Essentially, it will allow owners to divide their lots into duplexes, allowing up to four units, without local design review.

While the city of Santa Barbara has long been proud of its desire to build affordable housing, city officials believe SB 9 goes too far and robs cities of the ability – and responsibility – to design their own communities.

Supporters of SB 9, however, say Santa Barbara and other local municipalities haven’t done enough to build affordable housing and address California’s housing shortage, so the law is forcing their hands.

Some cities are preparing for a possible legal challenge to the law. For the moment, Santa Barbara is not one of them.

“We don’t anticipate any challenges,” said senior planner Dan Gullett.

It is still not clear, he said, what specific impact SB 9 will have on the city.

“Opinions differ on the likely effects of SB 9, and its potential use in the city is unknown at this time,” Gullett said. “We will take a closer look at this as we prepare for our update to the housing component of the general plan, which is due to be adopted in early 2023.”

He said the city will work on a brochure, submission requirements and an internal review procedure for SB 9 projects.

“The city will likely want a local ordinance to clarify ambiguities in SB 9 and provide the necessary interpretation,” Gullett said, noting that the legislature had not given sufficient time to local jurisdictions to properly deal with the new law before it was passed. effective date.

The law eliminates the review of projects by the single-family design committee and requires objective design standards. The state has been pushing local courts to build more housing for several years.

Homeowners can already build accessory housing units, or ADUs, without a design review. Also known as “grandma’s units,” ADUs are typically one or two bedroom units built on an existing residential property.

Santa Barbara currently has 116 ADUs pending and 28 that have already obtained building permits.

The issue has also become a source of conversation for at least two city council candidates – outgoing city councilor Kristen Sneddon and challenger Barrett Reed in District 4.

Both fear that neighborhoods in their district will bear the brunt of the impact.

“SB 9 takes away all of our local planning and consideration of where increased densities can be best supported,” Sneddon said.

“If this is effectively tripling or quadruple our potential city-wide density, I would say that we have more than met all zoning expectations to meet regional housing needs assessment numbers, and we should reconsider them. other incentives we have in place. “

She said the city had “carefully encouraged housing in our urban core and away from outlying hills and high fire risk areas.”

“With all we know about fires burning faster and longer, and the increased stress on our increased density infrastructure in the hills, we want to move increased density out of these sensitive areas and more into the city center.” Sneddon said.

His opponent, Reed, said the city needs to be more aggressive in tackling the new law, rather than just accepting it.

“SB 9 threatens the future of our beautiful city,” he said. “SB 9 is not a solution. It’s a horrible idea that will ultimately make housing less affordable and destroy the charm and character of our particular neighborhoods.

“As a local real estate professional, I will work to block this measure and protect our city.”

Reed said he was in favor of putting a statewide initiative on the ballot to overturn the law or fight it in court.

“We must act now,” he said.

Reed, who also sits on the Planning Commission, said the city has a say.

“We can stop these projects by finding that the proposed project would have a ‘specific negative impact’ on ‘public health and safety or the physical environment’, and that there are no feasible mitigation options. and satisfactory, ”he said.

“Now is the time to be proactive in making foolproof rules. We cannot wait.

Murillo said the city is still considering its options.

“Overall, we need to build more affordable housing in places where it makes sense: infill development and viable and viable projects on foot,” she said.

“The lack of housing is at the root of so many of our challenges, the first being homelessness,” said Murillo. “But housing insecurity contributes to children’s poor academic performance, it leads to domestic violence, and most evident is the pollution caused by commuting and a loss of quality of life, because people cannot live in it. proximity to their work. “

– Noozhawk editor-in-chief Joshua Molina can be reached at . (JavaScript must be enabled to display this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.


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