Like last year’s Senate Bill 1120, and SB 50 the year before that (both of which failed to pass in the state legislature), two new bills – SB 9 and SB 10 – are resuming the statewide housing densification fight in this legislative session, and are taking center stage in current housing debates. On February 23, in an effort to better understand the bills and what’s at stake if they pass, the GWNC Land Use Committee received presentations from both an advocate and an opponent of the two bills.
By way of background, SB 9 – introduced by state Senators Toni Atkins, Scott Wiener, and several other legislators who championed the two predecessor bills in the last couple of years – would make it easier for cities across the state to:
- Allow ministerial approval (without discretionary review) of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)
- Allow ministerial approval for bulding duplexes on lots currently zoned for single family homes
- Similarly allow the subdivision of current single family lots into two separate lots, each of which, presumably, could be improved with a duplex and one or more ADUs, depending on local laws
Meanwhile, SB 10 would “notwithstanding any local restrictions on adopting zoning ordinances, authorize a local government to pass an ordinance to zone any parcel for up to 10 units of residential density per parcel, at a height specified in the ordinance, if the parcel is located in a transit-rich area, a jobs-rich area, or an urban infill site, as those terms are defined.”
While those two things – allowing duplexes and ADUs on current single family lots by right, and allowing up to 10 units on parcels in transit, jobs-rich, and urban infill areas, statewide – might seem simple at first glance, the devil, as always, is in the details. And those details were the focus of the two presentations at the February 23 Land Use meeting.
Arguments Opposing SB 9 and 10
Speaking first at the meeting, and in opposition to the two bills, was Jill Stewart, a journalist and former executive director of the Coalition to Preserve LA.
According to Stewart, SB 9 is a “reincarnation of SB 1120,” and not simply the duplex construction bill it appears at first glance. In other words, said Stewart, the bill does not merely allow duplexes by right, and goes quite a bit further.
Stewart reiterated that the bill would allow construction of duplexes on any lot currently zoned for single-family construction, as well as the division of single family lots, which could mean the construction of a duplex on each of the two resulting lots, resulting in four new homes where one once stood. Also, Stewart said, existing ADU laws would remain in effect, potentially allowing both a standard ADU and a smaller “junior” ADU on each of the two new lots, for a total of up to 8 units on what is now a single family lot. (And another quirk of the bill, she said, might even allow one more unit per lot, for a total of 10 units where just one is now.) According to Stewart:
Also, Stewart noted, there are no affordability provisions in SB 9, so all new units could be sold at market rate. And none of the new units would be required to have garage space, which would add to parking issues on residential streets where these new units are added.
All of this, she said, would be a big gift to corporate developers and owners of rental housing, who would bid against – and likely outbid – individual families every time a older single family home comes up for sale.
Turning next to SB 10, Stewart said this measure would not only upzone residential areas near jobs and transit, as it states up front, but would also allow local city councils to undo previously-passed ballot measures that might currently prevent developers from having free rein in some areas. And it would allow these 10-unit projects not just in transit and job-adjacent areas, but also “urban infill” sites, which could include almost any area – including low-density residential neighborhoods – not zoned for industrial or agricultural use.
As with SB 9, Stewart said SB 10 has no requirments to include affordable units in new development, and that the overall result will continue the current trend of building too much luxury housing and too little affordable housing, which is exactly what has led to our current affordability crisis.
Stewart predicted the result of the two bills, if passed, would be a situation similar to the one in Vancouver, where density has quadrupled in recent years, but housing prices have also continued to skyrocket.
Finally, Stewart contended that the new denser building patterns will also “decimate” the environment, decreasing tree canopies and permeable land, and leading to greater problems with air pollution, heat island effects, and stormwater runoff.
The overall result she said, would be a significant change in the pattern of many residential neighborhoods.
Arguments in Favor of SB 9 and 10
According to Ulyatezrow, SB 9 will allow construction of duplexes on lots currently zoned for single family homes, and SB10 will allow cities to permit up to 10 units on any lot near transportation or jobs centers with only ministerial approval and no lengthy community input process that would slow down the process.
The goal, he said, is to help individual cities build faster, to more quickly reach their mandated targets for new housing construction.
More specifically, Ulyatezrow confirmed that SB 9 is very similar to last year’s SB 1120 (see infographic below) in both intent and provisions.
But he disputed Stewart’s claim that the lack of affordability requirements in either bill would add to the current lack of affordable housing units.
First, he said, housing prices tend to rise because too few units are available when population rises, a trend that’s exacerbated when current zoning does not allow enough units to be built. And this is exactly what has been happening in LA, he said, for many years now.
Next, Ulyatezrow also contested Stewart’s claim that construction of new market-rate housing hurts overall affordability. Instead, he said, studies show that for every 100 new market rate units, 47 affordable units are freed up by people moving from them into the newer, more expensive housing.
In addition, said Ulyatezrow, duplex construction (the focus of SB 9) is one of the cheapest kinds of housing to build. And urban infill projects like replacing single family homes with duplexes is also the kind of construction most beneficial for greenhouse gas issues. In fact, he reported, doubling density in Norway led to a 42% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
Next, on the issue of local control, Ulyatezrow said the new bills do not require cities to make these zoning changes — they merely give municipalities some new tools to choose from.
And finally, he said, the law would not allow demolition of more than 25% of an existing home’s existing walls, so older homes would not be torn down completely, and new buildings would have to conform to existing height rules…so any resulting changes in individual neighborhoods, even if cities do adopt the new measures, would take place very gradually, over time, and not all at once.
Committee Comments and Discussion
Committee and public comments on the issue were opened by committee chair Philip Farha, who noted that the 25% rule for demolitions would only apply to homes that have had renters in them at some point during the last five years, not owner-occupied properties (which are the majority of single-family homes in our local neighborhoods). If the owner of an owner-occupied home decides to sell to a developer, Farha said, SB 9 would still allow the full demolition of the home.
Also, Farha repeated Stewart’s warning that SB 9 would allow 4-6 units on each property by right, and individual cities would only have a say in whether or not to extend the allowable unumber of units to to 8 (and maybe 10) through their own ADU regulations.
Next, committee member Jen DeVore called the two bills “magical thinking,” and said “it’s offensive” to debate whether or not building more luxury housing would have a trickle-down effect to enhance the affordable housing market. In response, Ulyatezrow noted that Los Angeles’ overall vacancy rate is currently about 4%, when 6-8% is considered healthy for housing prices, so building more housing quickly would seem to be in order. But Farha also suggested that the vacancy data may not be accurate, since LA does not have a formal registry to provide precise numbers.
During public comments, local resident Tommy Atlee said Stewart’s slide showing what a current single-family block could look like under SB 9 and 10 doesn’t scare him, and that framing the proposals as a disaster for neighborhoods is not helpful when we do have a housing crisis and people are trying to use logical solutions to solve the problem. Atlee also noted that even if the new laws pass, no one will force single-family homeowners to sell to developers, and they can keep their current homes as long as they like, which will also work against the disaster narratives. Finally, Atlee, a recent college graduate, also noted that affordability is very important to young people, who would like to be able to stay in Los Angeles, but too often just can’t afford to live here.
At the end of the discussion, committee member Cathy Roberts moved that the committee recommend that the GWNC board support recent motions introduced by City Council Member Paul Koretz opposing SB 9 and 10.
In discussion of the motion, there was some debate over whether to modify the motion to specify that issues of local control were the primary reason for opposing the bills, and whether or not to entertain separate motions for each of the two bills, but in the end neither of those proposals advanced, and the committee voted by a margin of 4-2 to simply recommend support for Koretz’s motions of opposition to SB 9 and 10.
The GWNC board will vote on the recommendation at its upcoming board meeting, this coming Wednesday, March 10, at 7 p.m.
Also, tonight, at its regular monthly board meeting starting at 6:30 p.m., the Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council will include a presentation on SB 9 and 10 and what it may mean for single family neighborhoods. The discussion will likely be applicable to all local neighborhoods, not just Sherman Oaks, and the meeting is open to all. The agenda is available here (the SB9 and 10 discussion is scheduled for 7 p.m.). Zoom info is:
Webinar ID: 851 4054 3942
Meeting link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85140543942
Telephone: 1-833-548-0282 enter 851 4054 3942 #