California Says Goodbye to Single-Family Zoning

Two days after his titanic victory in the September 14 recall election, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed historic legislation that essentially eliminates single-family zoning across the state of California.

SB9 (Atkins) will allow up to four dwellings (as many as two duplexes or two houses with attached units) to be built on almost any lot currently zoned for a single-family residence. The bill only allows cities to veto such development when there is a threat to health and safety. Historic districts and fire hazard zones are excluded. The bill also contains a provision requiring the developer to live on site for at least three years to curtail speculative buying.

Advocates of the bill say it will reduce sky-high housing prices in the state by increasing supply. Some point to the racist history behind so-called “exclusionary zoning” as well.

Over 200 cities were opposed to the bill, which critics note includes no price caps or other assurances of affordability. Instead, they argue it will destroy the character of single-family neighborhoods, drive down property values and/or and speed up gentrification in some Black and Latino areas.

SB9 “undermines the ability of local governments to responsibly plan for the types of housing that communities need, circumvents the local government review process, and silences community voices,” said League of California Cities Executive Director Carolyn Coleman, as quoted by CalMatters.

“Even worse, there are no provisions in SB9 that require new housing to be affordable, continuing the cycle of the construction of new units that are out of reach for a mini working-class families.”

There are very real concerns about the capacity of local infrastructure as well. More dwellings mean increased water and sewer use, trash collection, and parking woes. That’s according to 120 mayors and city council members from 48 cities who have complained about the bill’s usurpation of local control.

These dueling arguments will soon be thrust before voters. A group called Californians for Community Planning Initiative has filed a proposed constitutional amendment for the November 2022 ballot to restore local governments’ zoning and land-use powers.

Affordable housing advocates are willing to fight for what they believe was a necessary change in the status quo. As the governor said last week, “the housing affordability crisis is undermining the California Dream for families across the state, and threatens our long-term growth and prosperity.”

In addition to SB9, the governor has signed SB8 (Skinner) and SB10 (Wiener). SB8 extends the Housing Crisis Act of 2019 through 2030. That law accelerates the approval process for home-building and limits local governments’ ability to downzone. SB10 will make it easier for cities to approve small apartment complexes of up to 10 units in single-family neighborhoods near transit or in urban infill areas.

Want to learn more about these historic housing laws? Visit the links below.

California ends most single-family zoning

Study: California’s ‘upzoning’ bill won’t spur massive redevelopment

California’s housing crisis: How much difference will a new zoning law make?

What California’s new SB9 housing law means for single family zoning in your neighborhood

Newsom backs denser zoning for single-family neighborhoods