March 10, 2021
From: Sustainable TamAlmonte
To: Honorable Scott Wiener, Senate Housing Committee, CA State Capitol, Room 2209, Sacramento, CA 95814
Re: OPPOSE Senate Bill 9 (Atkins) "Statewide Rezoning of Single-Family Neighborhoods & Urban Parcel Splits"
Dear Chair Wiener and Members of the Senate Housing Committee,
We urge you to oppose Senate Bill 9 (Atkins) “Housing development: approvals”. SB-9 is fundamentally flawed. The bill is an unprecedented taking of local planning powers that hands city and community decision-making directly to market-rate housing developers. Moreover, the bill could ruin treasured single-family neighborhoods.
I. ABOUT SENATE BILL 9
Senate Bill 9 rezones by state statute virtually all parcels within single-family residential zones in California allowing for the creation of four units and (when combined with state Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) law) up to six or eight units; and further authorizes urban parcel splits, without any local discretionary hearing or review, including compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), as follows:
Senate Bill 9 requires cities and counties to permit ministerially either or both of the following in single-family zones, as long as they meet specified conditions:
A housing development of up to two units (a duplex).
The subdivision of a parcel into two equal parcels (urban lot split).
To use this bill, the subject parcel would need to be zoned for residential uses and in a single-family zoning district. Certain hazardous, protected parcels or currently occupied parcels could not take advantage of this bill. Projects could not result in the demolition of 25% or more of existing exterior walls unless the site has not been occupied by a tenant in the last three years; a parcel smaller than 1,200 square feet; nor provide short-term rentals. CEQA would not be required. Objective requirements may be applied, provided the requirements do not prohibit the project.
SB-9 would let developers buy up single-family lots as small as 2,400 sq. ft., subdivide each lot into two 1,200 sq. ft. lots and then build 2 homes on each lot. The result would be four homes, where there used to be only one. When combined with the State Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) law, the result could be up to six, eight, or even ten units. Rear and side setbacks for new construction are limited to 4 feet.
SB-9 allows a local government to adopt ordinances to implement its duplex and urban lot split provisions and provides that the adoption of such ordinances are not subject to CEQA.
SB-9 significantly lowers parking requirements and eliminates parking requirements in many areas.
SB-9 disclaims the state's responsibility for providing reimbursement by citing local governments’ authority to charge for the costs of implementing the bill's provisions
II. REASONS TO OPPOSE SENATE BILL 9
A. Increasing Housing Density Is The Wrong Solution To Meet Our Affordable Housing Needs:
Senate Bill 9 is based on the unrealistic premise that increasing density and allowable buildout of housing would result in affordable housing being built. However, there is already plenty of density and allowable buildout for housing and this has not led to enough affordable housing being provided.
We know from experience and observation that high-density housing does not equate to affordable housing. San Francisco’s Nob and Telegraph Hills, Los Angeles’ Wilshire Corridor, and high-rises in downtown San Diego are all examples of upper-income areas where housing densities are quite high. Indeed, San Francisco is the second densest city in the United States with a density of 6,266 people per square mile and yet its median home price is $1.4 million and its median 1-bedroom rent is $3360 per month.
When discussing the need for housing, it is important to recognize that California’s population growth rate is at a record low and predicted to remain low. Estimates released on Dec. 20, 2019 by the California Department of Finance show that between July 1, 2018 and July 1, 2019, the growth rate was just .35%, the lowest recorded growth rate since 1900. During the same time period, the Department reported that there was substantial negative domestic net migration, which resulted in a loss of 39,500 residents – “the first time since the 2010 census that California has had more people leaving the state than moving in from abroad or other states”.
Therefore, California, as a whole, only needs a modest increase in housing every year. We do not need to significantly up-zone vast areas of the state to accomplish this. There is plenty of potential housing buildout already allowed by the General Plans and zoning of jurisdictions throughout the state. And this potential housing buildout will grow each time jurisdictions update their Housing Elements to meet new Regional Housing Need Allocations. Moreover, new Accessory Dwelling Unit laws, which were enacted in 2019, have already dramatically increased potential housing buildout beyond what communities can sustainably contend with.
So, massive up-zoning by the State for mostly market rate housing is not the answer. This strategy primarily benefits real estate investors, developers, and large corporations rather than those in need of affordable housing.
Instead, we need to provide the correct amount of affordable housing where it is already allowed and prevent the loss of existing affordable housing. Funding and subsidies are needed for local solutions to affordable housing. (Scroll down to Section III “Solutions” of this letter.)
B. SB-9 Eliminates Single-Family Zoning And Could Ruin Single-Family Neighborhoods, Which Are Greatly Treasured And Should Be Protected:
SB-9 would eliminate single-family zoning, even though most residents prefer single-family homes. A 2019 Redfin survey found that regardless of where people live within the US, more than 85% of home buyers and sellers (including millennials) prefer single-family homes with more space, privacy, and gardens over a unit in a triplex that has a shorter commute.
In addition, since the outbreak of COVID-19, realtors report a trend of city dwellers wanting to move to single-family neighborhoods in the suburbs to escape dense living conditions, which contribute to the spread of the disease.
Over time, the bill would cause the supply of single-family homes to diminish due to conversions to duplexes and “fourplexes” (a lot split and each half becoming duplexes) and the price for the remaining single-family dwellings would become even more expensive. This would make it more difficult for residents to attain their preferred lifestyle.
C. SB-9 Takes Away Local Control Of Land Use And Gives It To Market-Rate Housing Developers:
SB-9 would override local land use plans and regulations and eviscerate decades of careful planning. Local planning efforts (general plans and zoning ordinances) encourage public engagement and are much better than the State at determining where and how much housing growth should occur. Local planning efforts are also better at anticipating necessary government services such as water, sewer, utilities, schools and traffic flow.
D. Inequitable Impacts:
It is likely that the disruption caused by SB-9 will have inequitable impacts depending on wealth. Flipping homes to duplexes and splitting parcels down to 1,200 square feet are likely to affect middle class and lower income neighborhoods and homeowners more than wealthier individuals. The wealthy, as always, will have more options, including moving to larger estates.
E. Destabilizing Economic Impacts:
The purchase of a home is typically an individual’s largest investment. Establishing a state policy that permits unlimited and radical developments on adjacent parcels with no public process will destabilize single-family neighborhoods. Those concerned about protecting the value of their investment, and/or seeking to obtain/preserve the traditional benefits of single-family neighborhoods (less noise, traffic, etc.) will opt to move to more rural settings—contributing to additional sprawl—or add to economic and social divisions by increasing demand for living in homeowner’s associations where such activities would be prohibited via CC&R’s, or is the final straw that accelerates a move out of state. Business location and retention decisions will likely be affected as well, since local quality-of-life for those making the decision is often a major factor.
F. Ministerial Approval Streamlines The Permit Review Process For Housing Development And Stifles Democracy, Discretionary Review, Public Engagement, Environmental Review, & High-Quality Development:
SB-9 requires Cities and Counties to permit ministerially duplexes and urban lot splits. Streamlining the permit review process poses a significant threat to democracy, public engagement, environmental protections and high-quality development. Public comments by local residents often bring to light a proposed development’s negative characteristics and potential adverse impacts that otherwise would never be known. Consideration of such public input during the permit review process leads to higher quality development. In contrast, reducing and eliminating public input could lead to dire consequences.
G. SB-9 Would Increase The Risk Of Significant Adverse Impacts:
SB-9’s vast up-zoning, without any environmental review of potential adverse impacts and cumulative effects, is reckless.
The 2007 Marin Countywide Plan’s (CWP’s) Environmental Impact Report (EIR) projected potential growth of 14,043 more housing units (more than the current number of homes in Sausalito and Mill Valley combined) and 29,759 more residents, if land vacant in 2006 were fully developed according to zoning designations of the cities in Marin County and the Countywide Plan. This didn’t include density bonuses. Alarmingly, the EIR concluded that “land uses and development consistent with the CWP would result in 42 significant unavoidable adverse impacts”, including worse traffic congestion and insufficient water supplies.
There are more than 61,200 single-family dwellings in Marin, according to a 2006 report by the County Assessor-Recorder. The County’s average household size is 2.35 people (per the CWP’s EIR). So, growth consistent with SB-9, in which single-family homes turn into duplexes or four homes, could be up to 183,600 more homes and 431,460 more residents, over and above the CWP EIR’s forecast. If single-family homes become six, eight, or ten-unit complexes, then potential growth would be even more unsustainable.
The bill’s subsequent population growth and revision of development standards would increase the risk of adverse impacts on the environment, public health and safety, traffic congestion, infrastructure, utilities (water supply), public services (schools), views, sunlight, privacy, neighborhood character, and quality of life.
H. SB-9 Jeopardizes High Fire Hazard Areas:
According to the Senate’s analysis of SB-9, the bill exempts locations within a “very high fire hazard severity zone”, unless it complies with fire hazard mitigation measures pursuant to existing building standards or state fire mitigation measure applicable to the development. So, if a development in a “very-high fire hazard severity zone” complies with fire mitigation measures, which any new development would have to do, then it would still be eligible for the bill’s duplex or lot split provisions.
First of all, the exemption only applies to “very-high fire hazard severity zones”, where as “high fire hazard zones” and the Wildland Urban Interface can be just as perilous. Moreover, a development that meets fire mitigation measures related to building codes does nothing to help residents evacuate during a fire.
There are many communities in the Wildland Urban Interface and in “high” and “very high” fire hazard zones that have steep, narrow, winding roadways and few routes out to safety. The bill allows a dramatic increase in population in these hazardous communities, while reducing or eliminating parking requirements, which will lead to streets being overcrowded with parked vehicles. Dire consequences could result during an emergency when residents are unable to evacuate and fire trucks/ paramedics are unable to reach their destinations.
I. SB-9 Increases Traffic Congestion And Greenhouse Gas Emissions:
SB-9 would increase traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. As discussed above, the bill would increase the number of residents and vehicles in neighborhoods and the residents would have to park their vehicles on the street due to insufficient off-street parking spaces. Due to more cars on the road plus more circulation of those cars, as residents search for vacant on-street parking spaces, traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions would rise.
J. SB-9 Would Create Unfunded Mandates:
There is no funding for dealing with the above listed impacts and SB-9 provides an official sidestep of addressing this issue. The bill states; “SEC. 5. No reimbursement is required by this act pursuant to Section 6 of Article XIII B of the California Constitution because a local agency or school district has the authority to levy service charges, fees, or assessments sufficient to pay for the program or level of service mandated by this act, within the meaning of Section 17556 of the Government Code."
K. SB-9 Wrongly Assumes That Residents Who Live Near Bus Stops Don’t Need Vehicles And Therefore Don’t Need Parking Spaces:
SB-9 presumes that residents who live within ½ mile of public transit (including just a bus stop) would need less parking because they would rely on public transit instead of vehicles for their transportation needs. However, this is a false presumption in many counties, including Marin County.
Due to Marin’s insufficient and inconvenient public transportation and the need to carry children, equipment or large purchases, the vast majority of Marin residents rely on their personal vehicles to travel within Marin. Infrequent bus service provides transportation primarily in the North/South direction. SMART also travels North/South. There is little public transportation available for West/East travel. Many members of Marin’s population cannot walk or bike very far (E.g. Marin’s growing elderly population) or else find these non- motorized forms of transportation to be inappropriate for where they are going (E.g. They need to transport children or carry heavy objects). Therefore, Marin residents will most likely continue to rely primarily on their personal vehicles for transportation and will need places to park these vehicles.
Data from a recent Metropolitan Transportation Commission report confirms that most Marin residents use personal vehicles for their transportation needs and few use transit. MTC concluded that 73.5 % of Marin commuters drive to work and only 8.9 % of Marin commuters use transit to get to work.
L. Weakening The California Environmental Quality Act Is Misguided:
New and denser housing development encouraged by SB-9 would likely increase potential significant adverse environmental impacts. Yet, the bill would prevent any environmental review of those potential impacts.
A CEQA exemption for the approval of a duplex or urban lot split ordinance removes the ability of local governments to be fully informed of the ordinance’s potential environmental consequences. Without that review, a local government would not be properly informed of traffic impacts, air impacts, or compatible use issues. It is unacceptable for the public to live with the consequences of a zoning ordinance that would not be fully vetted and whose impacts were not mitigated and alternatives not considered.
The California Environmental Quality Act, which became law in 1970, is our state’s landmark environmental law. Its purpose is to foster transparency and integrity in public decision-making while ensuring land use decisions take the full impacts of development on our natural and human environments into account. It is one of the most powerful environmental protection laws in the nation.
CEQA gives the community a voice in land use decisions. It requires decision-makers to adopt alternatives or mitigation measures to reduce significant adverse environmental impacts. As such, it plays a critical role in preserving and enhancing California’s public health, safety, and the environment.
The Act was designed to ensure that a project applicant—not the public—bears the costs of providing the necessary infrastructure to support a project. It also provides the public and decision-makers with “the big picture” and helps ensure that many small projects are not considered separately, only to overwhelm a community when taken as a whole.
CEQA protections should be strengthened rather than further weakened.
M. Voters Deserve A Voice On Proposed Elimination Of Single-Family Zoning:
It is difficult to conceive of a more aggressive law the Legislature could attempt to pass affecting the nearly seven million California homeowners who have scrimped and saved to acquire and maintain their piece of the California Dream, a single-family home. The Legislature should not leap blindly to the enactment of a sweeping statewide law, without the proper reflection, due diligence, and true public transparency on what such a proposal really means for millions of Californians and the state’s future economy. Enacting such a law without consultation with the voters would be massively reckless.
III. SOLUTIONS TO OUR AFFORDABLE HOUSING NEEDS
Instead of SB-9, we need to provide the correct amount of affordable housing and prevent the loss of existing affordable housing.
To accomplish this, funding and subsidies are needed for local solutions to affordable housing, which could include building new affordable housing where it is already allowed and providing other affordable housing programs (housing vouchers, converting market-rate housing to affordable housing, encouraging living wages, maintaining existing affordable housing, preventing developers from being able to pay a penalty instead of actually build affordable units, etc.). In addition, funding/subsidies are required to mitigate the adverse impacts that the increased housing would create.
In regard to the jobs/housing imbalance created by large corporations, the State should provide incentives to Corporations for them to open offices in the less populated areas of the State that are jobs poor and housing rich, where the cost of land and housing are much less expensive. In addition, provide incentives to cities and counties to require “Full Mitigation”, which makes commercial development approval contingent on adequate housing. (See Palo Alto Mayor Filseth’s article - https://padailypost.com/2020/01/03/guest-opinion-who-should-pay-for-tech-expansion/ )
Once again, we urge you to oppose Senate Bill 9, which is fundamentally flawed. Instead, support locally-grown sustainable strategies that enable our communities to meet all housing needs. Provide incentives to Corporations to open offices in areas of the State that are jobs poor and housing rich. In addition, provide incentives to cities and counties to require “Full Mitigation”, which makes commercial development approval contingent on adequate housing.
Thank you in advance for your conscientious consideration.
Very truly yours,
Sharon Rushton, Chair
 At a minimum a developer could create six units by doing the following: (1) First add a junior and separate accessory dwelling units as permitted by recently-enacted state ADU law; then (2) use Sec. 65852.21 in SB 9 to split the single-family home into two units; then (3) apply for an urban parcel split under Sec. 66411.7 of SB 9, and build an additional two units on the newly created parcel.
 A developer could potentially create even two more accessory dwelling units connected to the subdivision of the original single family home, if the division of the main dwelling is considered a condominium. It could then be argued that each condominium is a separate “lot,” so each separate unit is entitled to the development of both junior and separate ADU’s. While such an interpretation may seem farfetched, SB 9 only says (Sec. 6582.21 (e)) that ADU’s need not be permitted by a local agency when the developer also proposes the parcel to be split. However, the urban parcel split section of SB 9 (Sec. 66411.7) contains no mention of Section 65852.21, or single family homes, or ADU’s that may be on the parcel prior to a proposed split. Thus, a savvy developer can exploit this by first maximizing and completing development of the parcel prior to requesting a split. Given SB 9’s objective is to preempt local zoning, and prohibit related local public hearings and discretionary decisions, the total amount of allowed units on a parcel will likely trigger litigation over how to interpret SB 9’s interactions between dividing single family homes, adding ADU’s and splitting parcels.