New Housing Density Bills Introduced

By: 
Bill Pearl

A number of Sacramento legislators have reintroduced housing density bills for 2021 that came close to passing in 2020. Among them are bills supported by development, real estate interests and density proponents that in the opinion of Livable California (advocacy group that supports maintaining single family home zoning) were among the worst bills of 2020.

SB 9 is a 2021 replacement for SB 1120. Co-authored (as SB 1120 was) by state Senator Lena Gonzalez (D, LB-SE LA County) SB 9 would allow (prevent City Halls from denying) lot splits creating four housing units on single-family home lots.

Like SB 1120, SB 9 contains duplex and urban lot split provisions. It requires cities to grant “ministerial” (checklist type) approval to proposed housing development projects for two residential units on parcels zoned for single-family residences and its “urban lot split” provisions require ministerial approval to subdivide a parcel to create two new parcels of equal size no smaller than 1,200 square feet (unless a local ordinance allows a smaller minimum.) Together these provisions would let an owner or developer take a single family zoned parcel with one home on it, subdivide it into two equal size lots and then build two homes on each lot producing four residences on what had been a single family home lot. Garages and yards aren’t required.

SB 9 allows cities to require one off-street parking space per unit but prevents parking requirements if the parcel is within half a mile walking distance of a high-quality transit corridor, a major transit stop or a car share vehicle within a half block from the parcel.

SB 9 also includes a provision absent from SB 1120 regarding properties in the Coastal Zone. “Nothing in this section shall be construed to supersede or in any way alter or lessen the effect or application of the California Coastal Act ... except that the local government shall not be required to hold public hearings for coastal development permit applications for urban lot splits pursuant to this section.”

While it’s too soon to know if opponents/supporters will line up exactly as they did on last year’s measures, SB 1120 was supported by (among others) the CA Apartment Association, the CA Association of Realtors, the CA Building Industries Association, the CA and LA area Chambers of Commerce and “California YIMBY” [“yes in my backyard”].

SB 1120’s opponents included Livable California (charged SB 1120 “crushes single-family streets and directly attacks homeownership by ending single-family zoning everywhere”) and ELB’s grassroots Eastside Voice headed by Corliss Lee. Other SB 1120 opponents included the CA League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club California, multiple neighborhood groups statewide and the cities of Agoura Hills; Beverly Hills; Burbank; Camarillo; Campbell; Cerritos; Chino Hills; Cupertino; Del Mar; Diamond Bar; Downey; El Segundo; Glendora; Hawthorne; Hidden Hills; Huntington Beach; Laguna Beach; Lomita; Newport Beach; Norwalk; Orinda; Paramount; Pasadena; Pico Rivera; Rancho Palos Verdes; Redondo Beach; Rohnert Park; Rosemead; Santa Clarita; Saratoga; Signal Hill; Thousand Oaks –  but not the City of Long Beach.

Long Beach City Hall took no position on SB 1120 as it advanced to the verge of passage. The state Senate approved it in mid 2020 with “yes” votes by LB-area state Senators Gonzalez and Umberg (D, SE LB/west OC). It cleared the Assembly – with opposition by Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell (D LB/San Pedro) and a handful of Democrats who voted “no” – and came literally within minutes of passage when state senators couldn’t meet a midnight deadline to approve Assembly changes.

The City Council’s “state legislation committee” (which makes recommendations to the full council) never discussed SB 1120. Any councilmember could have agendized a City Council item to take a position on the bill. None did.

SB 10 is a 2021 replacement for SB 902. It would let a City Council by a simple majority vote pass an ordinance to zone any parcel for up to 10 units of residential density per parcel in areas the bill defines as “transit-rich,” “jobs-rich” or “urban infill.” SB 10, authored by state Senator Scott Wiener (D, SF), exempts the zoning change ordinance from CA Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review of the zoning ordinance change’s impacts.

On Dec. 8, Senator Wiener wrote on his Facebook page: “Yesterday, the first day of our legislative session, we introduced a package of legislation to expand housing production in California. As part of that package, I introduced Senate Bill 10, which allows cities to quickly zone for up to 10-unit apartment buildings, without a lengthy process.”

SB 6, co-authored by Senator Gonzalez, would [legislative counsel text] “deem a housing development project ... an allowable use on a ... parcel within an office or retail commercial zone that is not adjacent to an industrial use.” SB 6 “would require the housing development to meet all other local requirements for a neighborhood lot, other than those that prohibit residential use, or allow residential use at a lower density than that required by the bill.” SB 6, introduced by Senators Caballero, Eggman and Rubio would require the density for a housing development under these provisions to meet or exceed the density deemed appropriate to accommodate housing for lower income households according to the type of local jurisdiction, including a density of at least 20 units per acre for a suburban jurisdiction. The bill would require that the housing development is subject to a recorded deed restriction with an unspecified affordability requirement.

SB 7, also co-authored by Gonzalez, replaces SB 995, which passed the state Senate and the Assembly (with “yes” votes by Senators Gonzalez, Umberg and Assemblyman O’Donnell) but died when it didn’t advance to the state Senate for concurrence in the Assembly amendments. SB 7 would [legislative counsel text] require preparing a master EIR for a general plan, plan amendment, plan element, or specific plan for housing projects where the state has provided funding for preparing the master EIR. It would then “allow for limited review of proposed subsequent housing projects that are described in the master EIR if the use of the master EIR is consistent with specified provisions of CEQA.”

Votes in Sacramento matter here.  In 2019, multiple cities (with Long Beach silent) opposed AB 68, which passed with the “yes” votes of Long Beach area state Senators Gonzalez and Umberg and a “no” vote by Assemblyman O’Donnell. AB 68 has now invited a home property investor to turn a La Marina Estates area home into an 11-bedroom residence near CSULB.  Others may follow.  In 2019, any LB Council member could have agendized an item to oppose AB 68.  None did.

Bill Pearl is the publisher of lbreport.com, a local, online news source since August 2000.

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