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4 Southern CA Cities Sue to stop SB 9 that rezones single-family neighborhoods

Marin and the 101 cities in the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area could take a cue from four cities in Southern California.

Redondo Beach, Torrance, Carson, and Whittier filed a legal challenge to Senate Bill 9, the state law that took away a city’s right to plan for zoning and replaced it with a one-size-fits-all law. SB9 permits an owner to divide a single-family lot and build up to four, two-story units where the single-family home once stood. For more information read the SB 9 Fact Sheet distributed by the CA Housing Policy Development Division I posted last week.

The suit was filed on Tuesday against Attorney General Rob Bonta. City leaders want a court order finding the law in violation of the state constitution along with a prohibition on its enforcement.

The petition states, “It is undisputed that planning and zoning laws are matters of municipal affairs.” “The constitutional right of municipalities to zone single-family residential districts and the sanctioning principle upon which that right is founded has been well-settled law for almost 100 years. By enacting SB 9, the state “eviscerated a city’s local control over land-use decisions and a community-tailored zoning process.”

The lawsuit is a powerful initiative to counter the lament we sometimes hear from elected officials who sigh like helpless victims and say, “There’s nothing we can do. Our hands are tied. We’ll have to wait eight years for the next RHNA cycle.”

This 4-city lawsuit demonstrates there is something cities can do. Here are two more examples of local initiatives that are making a difference.

First, elected officials in the CA Alliance of Local-Electeds (CALE) are responsible for getting the state Audit Department to audit HCD about the methodology behind the Regional Housing Need Assessment (RHNA) numbers. The report chastises HCD for making errors. The audit leans towards supporting the research of the Embarcadero Institute which published their findings in 2020 with the title, “Double-Counting the Latest Housing Needs Assessment.”

Another example is that elected officials and neighborhood leaders organized the Our Neighborhood Voices campaign to get a statewide initiative on the November 2022 ballot which would restore local control over zoning. The effort wasn’t successful in year #1, but the group promises to return with a better organized and better-funded effort in 2024.

We need to do more. The state-sponsored housing narrative, promoted by Senators Wiener and Skinner, is wrong. The claim that building more moderate and above moderate rate housing will meet the need for housing that is affordable is wrong. Dismembering local city authority and replacing it with developer authority for planning is wrong.

We need more lawsuits like the one brought forward by the Southern California cities, more fundraising for legal defense funds, more protests, more phone calls and letter-writing to return to common sense, realistic planning, and commitment to the common good. We need more residents to support elected officials with the courage to represent the interests of their constituents, not the profit margins of housing investors. Working together we can work wonders!


SB-9, RHNA, HCD, Redondo Beach, Torrance, Carson, Whittier