T Keith Gurnee
California’s legislature is attacking established single-family neighborhoods with a flurry of harmful housing legislation that threatens their very livability. Our state government has essentially declared war against the neighborhoods of every city, county, and community in California.
The state legislature has revealed its fixation on snuffing out the self-determination of local governments, cramming high-density apartments into existing low-density neighborhoods, gentrifying and displacing communities of color with luxury housing, and putting the real estate investment industry in charge of local planning and development review processes.
To justify their assault on single family neighborhoods as the new frontier for high density development, law makers are calling such neighborhoods “racist”, “segregationist”, and “evil” as stated in their own words. Perversely, despite negatively impacting black and brown neighborhoods where their homeownership is highest in South LA, East LA, Oakland, Richmond, and East Palo Alto, that narrative is working, politically, in today’s super-heated rhetoric.
It’s tragic how few Californians are aware of the changes this legislation portends for the communities in which they live.
So, what can be done to stop this?
Nix the Nine!
In 2019, a broad statewide coalition of grassroots organizations like Livable California defeated SB 50 (Wiener) -- a brutal housing bill that would have shoehorned high density housing into established single-family neighborhoods, throughout California.
The difference in 2020? Rather than one big bill, legislators are resorting to nine complex and confusing pieces of legislation at a time when public participation in the legislative process is essentially non-existent due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The legislature is actually exploiting the COVID virus to ram through their bills without public involvement.
So much for transparency!
Rather than exhausting our energies trying to defeat each of these nine bills individually, those of us interested in saving our neighborhoods must simplify things. We need to oppose them as a block.
Hence the notion of "Nix the Nine."
The common denominators that plague these nine noxious bills include:
- Mandating local government approval of high-density housing projects "by right," within existing single-family neighborhoods.
- Commanding local governments to obey the state’s overinflated Regional Housing Needs Allocations (RHNA) numbers or suffer state-initiated litigation
- Demanding local governments grant density bonuses "by right," with few if any affordability requirements.
- Prohibiting local jurisdictions from requiring off-street parking for housing projects within 1/2 mile of public transit (a bus stop).
- Limiting public participation in local land-use decision-making and eliminating CEQA analysis for many high-density developments.
- Imposing new height limits for housing projects that greatly exceed those allowed under local zoning ordinances.
- Forcing local agencies to approve high-density development projects or suffer state penalties and litigation initiated by the state or development applicants.
- Targeting working class neighborhoods for redevelopment, allowing real estate investors to demolish existing single-family housing stocks for high-density development, leading to the gentrification and displacement of existing residents.
- Failing to fund local governments (forcing them to increase taxes on existing residents) to expand their infrastructure and resources necessary to accommodate high-density development.
In entertaining such legislation, California’s law makers are warping our democracy into a top-down autocracy. Why are they doing this?
Rather than represent their constituents who voted for them, they are acting on behalf of their big-dollar contributors in the tech and development industry. It’s just wrong.
What specifically will these nine bills mean to our neighborhoods and communities? Below is a list of the bill numbers, their authors, and a brief summary of what they will do if enacted.
- SB 1120 (Atkins): Allows existing single-family lots to be subdivided into lots as small as 1200 sq. ft.
- SB 902 (Wiener): Allows any city council to overturn voter approved initiatives to protect open spaces and other lands while allowing rezoning of "any parcel" to build 10-unit luxury housing projects without any affordable housing.
- SB 995 (Atkins): Slashes the number of “affordable” units required in multifamily housing projects, in order to get a density bonus, from 49% to 15%, while exempting such projects from CEQA.
- SB 1085 (Skinner): Cuts in half the number of “moderate income” units required in multifamily projects, from 40% to 20%, to allow developers a 35% density bonus without providing any affordable housing for low to very-low income families.
- AB 725 (Wicks): Weaponizes state-inflated RHNA numbers by mandating that 25% of each community's housing targets be shoehorned into areas currently zoned for single-family housing.
- AB 1279 (Bloom): Creates an unelected state committee to identify neighborhoods throughout California as "Opportunity Zones" where 50-120-unit housing projects could be built despite all local zoning restrictions.
- AB 2345 (Gonzales): Entitles developers to an additional 50% density bonus if they provide more affordable housing units than required, regardless of city ordinances on building height, open space, parking, development review, and other local standards.
- AB 3040 (Chiu): Targets existing single-family homes that are 15 or more years old for demolition and replacement with 4-plexes, affecting over 6.2 million homes in California that would make working-class neighborhoods, which are most vulnerable to gentrification and resident displacement.
- AB 3107 (Bloom/Ting): Allows redevelopment of neighborhood commercial sites with high-density housing projects that would be as tall as the tallest buildings within a half-mile radius.
The aggregate impact of these nine bills will devastate California’s communities, result in unsustainable increases in taxes, fees, and special assessments.
We need to send a message to Sacramento, to stop this, now.
What to Do?
If we want to save your neighborhood, we all need to rise up and resist the state’s intrusion into our communities. Both houses of the state legislature are set to return to their COVID-19 delayed legislative session in late July 2020 to take action on these troubling bills. All of us--citizens, community organizations, neighborhood and homeowner’s associations, and cities and counties throughout California--need to take these actions as soon as possible:
CLICK HERE TO GO TO THE Livable California website at to access the “Kill the Bad 9 Bills” tab for directions on how to write and submit letters of opposition to the appropriate legislative committees.
Contact your State Senator and Assembly Member by phone, letter, or email to express your strong opposition to the nine harmful bills.
Appeal to your local city councils to write letters to the legislature to "Nix the Nine."
Write “Letters to the Editor” and “Op-Eds” to your local news outlets.
The time to act is NOW!
T. Keith Gurnee, Member of the Board of Directors of Livable California