Newsom signs housing bills that could reduce single-family zoning in California

California

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed three housing-related bills into law Thursday that are likely to make multi-family housing projects easier to build and open up many single-family zones to development.

“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 a statement announcing that he’d signed a series of three bill targeting the housing shortage. “Making a meaningful impact on this crisis will take bold investments, strong collaboration across sectors and political courage from our leaders and communities to do the right thing and build housing for all.”

Newsom’s signatures come two days after he defeated an effort to recall him from office.

He signed the most prominent legislation despite nearly 250 cities objecting that it will, by design, undermine local planning and control.

One of the bills, SB 9, “facilitates the process for homeowners to build a duplex or split their current residential lot,” the release read.

In practice, the bill require cities to approve up to four housing units on what was a single-family lot. They would also have to approve 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,” state Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins said. “This law will help close the gap and make those dreams a reality.”

Amid cities’ opposition, Atkins included ways 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.

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

The new law “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 executive director Carolyn Coleman, noting that there are no provisions requiring that the new housing be affordable.

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

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% of whites own their homes compared to 35% of Blacks and about 40% of Latinos.

Another bill signed by Newsom, SB 10, makes it easier for local governments to rezone areas near transit centers for multifamily housing of up to 10 units per parcel.

On Twitter, state Sen. Scott Wiener, the author of SB 10, called Newsom’s signature a “big step in our fight for housing.”

Wiener made his bill optional in response to opposition, but the advocacy groups California YIMBY and California Community Builders still hailed its passage.

“It shouldn’t take 5 or 10 years for cities to re-zone, and SB 10 gives cities a powerful new tool to get the job done quickly,” Wiener said.

The last in the trio of bills, SB 8, extends until 2030 the Housing Crisis Act of 2019, which “accelerates the approval process for housing projects, curtails local governments’ ability to downzone and limits fee increases on housing applications,” the statement read.

State Sen. Nancy Skinner, author of SB 8, said on Twitter her bill ensures “that California’s local governments can’t just say ‘no’ or add unnecessary delays to housing that already meets local rules.”

The measures will also allow the state to better combat climate change by building “denser housing closer to major employment hubs – a critical element in limiting California’s greenhouse gas emissions,” the statement read.

While the bills passed on a bipartisan basis, there are some who oppose what they describe as a loss of local control.

Beverly Hills City Councilmember John Mirisch, a frequent supporter of local zoning control who often disagrees with Wiener, said in an opinion piece published on CalMatters that “the discussion of housing in California has devolved into a thinly veiled propaganda war on single-family neighborhoods.”

“In a country that embraces the principles of pluralism, urban areas should offer a wide variety of living accommodations and lifestyle choices for families and people from all walks of life. And that includes single-family neighborhoods,” Mirisch wrote.

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