Senate Bill 9, the controversial housing development bill signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in September, will face a legal challenge from Carson, Redondo Beach and Torrance, officials said.
The bill, signed into law Jan. 1, allows owners of single-family homes to split their lots into duplexes, with up to two separate units on each, with city ministerial approval — meaning local governments won’t cannot deny a request unless it has a “specific, adverse effect” on public health and safety or the environment.
Proponents of the bill have touted it as one of multiple strategies to address the state’s ongoing housing crisis, while opponents argue it strips cities of local control.
“SB 9 will open up opportunities for landlords to help ease the housing shortage in our state, while protecting tenants from displacement,” noted Senate President Pro Tem Toni G. Atkins, D-San Diego, who drafted the bill. “And it will help our communities welcome new families to the neighborhood and get more people on the path to buying their first home.”
Carson — along with Torrance and Redondo Beach, who have joined the legal effort to invalidate SB 9 — intend to argue in court that the law violates the California Constitution by removing local control over land use and failing to specifically tailor the bill’s provisions to address the state’s housing crisis, said Carson City Attorney Sunny Soltani, who announced the action last week.
“Our argument is that the law is not suited to solving the problem of affordable housing,” Soltani said. “We all understand that we have a housing problem, but the law just takes local control without being adapted to solve the housing problem.”
Rather than allowing local governments to solve the housing crisis in a way that best meets the needs of their communities, Soltani said, the state has taken a “one size fits all” approach that strips local cities of authority. development needed.
Charter versus common law cities
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which Soltani says will be filed this week, will be several South Bay charter towns.
In California, cities that have not enacted their own charter—essentially a local constitution—are governed by general state law. Conversely, charter cities establish their own set of hyper-local governance rules that often differ from common law.
A second legal challenge to SB 9 — involving common law towns including Rancho Palos Verdes and Hesperia — is also underway, Soltani said.
In a draft complaint shared with the Southern California News Group, Soltani argued that SB 9 violates the California Constitution’s legal designation for charter cities – which states that such cities are specifically allowed to run affairs themselves. municipal.
“It is undisputed that planning and zoning laws are municipal matters,” the draft complaint states. “By enacting SB 9 in 2021, the State of California eviscerated a city’s local control over land use decisions and a community-friendly zoning process.”
SB 9 does include some protections though.
Single-family homeowners who wish to “zone-enhance” their property must continue to live on-site for at least three years after the lot split, which will deter any large developer looking for new investment opportunities.
The bill also protects residents.
Properties with actives within the last three years, for example, are excluded from ministerial approval for lot sharing under SB 9, which means profiteers are not allowed to buy single-family lots for the development and to evict or relocate current residents.
The text of Bill SB 9 also states that property owners are required to comply with local zoning requirements in terms of square footage, building height and parking.
What is different, however, is that owners who initiate the development process do not have to undergo environmental impact assessments.
“Although SB 9 allows a city to deny a project that would have specific negative impacts” on public health and safety, Soltani’s draft complaint said, “there are numerous environmental and community concerns that are not not considered “objective problems of public health or safety”.
Local ordinances, like those that preserve trees, views, bike paths or open spaces, Soltani said, don’t meet SB 9’s definition of a public health or safety issue — but do have an impact. significant to the overall health of a community.
“An individual housing project built under SB 9 is unlikely to have a significant impact on public health or safety such that it could be denied under the bill,” Soltani wrote. , “but the cumulative impacts of multiple housing projects in the same neighborhood on public health or safety would likely be significant.
Affordable housing issues
Another argument against SB 9 is that it does not sufficiently address affordable housing issues to warrant the “usurpation” of local control by the state, Soltani wrote in the draft complaint.
“SB 9 cites the lack of affordable housing as a statewide concern, but the bill does not require newly created homes to have affordability clauses or be restricted to households at low income,” the draft complaint states. “SB 9 housing estates could be sold or leased at market prices, which would do nothing to address housing affordability, and could exacerbate affordability by removing potential affordable housing.”
SB 9 proponents, on the other hand, argue that the bill creates a statewide pathway for local landlords to establish multi-generational capital and will create needed new housing for Californians who would normally be excluded from the market.
“At a time when many Californians are experiencing economic insecurity caused by the pandemic, this bill will generate affordable rental housing,” wrote California YIMBY – Yes In My Back Yard – in a declaration about SB 9. “It also provides flexibility for multi-generational housing by allowing owners to build a modest unit on their property so that their aging parent or adult child can have affordable housing.”
However, what sets the provisions of SB 9 apart from similar housing-focused legislation is that landlords who decide to divide their land can actually sell the new unit, instead of just renting it out.
“By doing so, SB 9 could open up new opportunities for homeownership at more affordable prices for potential buyers, who might apply for a traditional mortgage to purchase the home,” the UC Berkeley researchers wrote in a statement. recent study potential impacts of the bill on California’s housing crisis.
The Berkeley study estimated that redevelopment of 80% of California’s existing single-family homes would not be feasible under the provisions of SB 9. The study also estimated that the bill could catalyze the creation of 700,000 new viable units on the market over several years, representing a 40% increase in the development potential existing in single-family housing plots in California.
The state needs about 1.8 million new homes by 2025, according to the California Department of Housing and Community Development — approximately 180,000 new units must be built each year to keep up with population growth and demand.
Currently, California adds only about 80,000 new homes per year, according to this department.
Richard K. Green, director of USC’s Lusk Center for Real Estate, said that historically, single-family zoning laws were designed to be exclusive. SB 9, he said, eases those restrictions, making room for younger, lower-income and more diverse groups of people to enter the housing market.
“It’s a step toward less exclusive land use regulation,” Green said. “We avoid people who make less than $50,000 a year because they can’t afford to be here – and the reason is that we don’t have enough housing.”
Duplexes and quadruplexes, the type of lots allowed under SB 9, are cheaper to build than large apartment complexes, Green added.
“You’re essentially reducing the value of the cost of the land involved, which is key here,” he said. “The value of the land is often a significant part of the value of a house. So if you split the land and put more units in, you lower the price and make it more accessible to low-income people.
Opponents, meanwhile, have another concern about SB 9: gentrification.
Redondo Beach Mayor Bill Brand in an interview said he was concerned about how the bill could negatively change the composition of neighborhoods in his city.
“It claims to solve California’s affordability crisis, but unfortunately it does anything but,” Brand said. “In fact, it’s going to gentrify many communities of color and hamper our ability to try to get affordable housing across the state.”
Torrance Mayor Pat Furey expressed a similar concern about the neighborhood’s character.
“We’re just trying to protect the nature and character of our neighborhoods,” Furey said. “We are concerned that SB 9 will have devastating effects on the neighborhoods of single-family residents.”
Broadly speaking, gentrification refers to low-income neighborhoods being bought, developed, and sold or leased to occupants with much greater economic security than the original principles.
SB 9, Green said, would do the opposite.
Green used his own neighborhood as an example: an upper-middle-class neighborhood in Pasadena largely occupied by single-family lots and surrounded by highly desirable amenities such as jobs and nearby public transportation.
“My neighborhood can’t be gentrified — it’s already nobility,” Green said. “What he (SB 9) is going to do is gently degentrify neighborhoods.”