Alas, victory of SB 9 and SB 10 will no doubt be a pyrrhic one

| September 30, 2021 | 0 Comments

One has to hand it to California state Sen. Scott Wiener. After years of failures in the face of fierce political and public resistance, he managed with Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins to drag SB 9 and SB 10 over the finish line just in time for Gov. Gavin Newsom, fresh from his victory over the forces that sought to recall him, to sign the bills into law. YIMBYs (Yes In My Backyard), housing developers and contractors and real estate lobbyists were ecstatic, taking to Twitter to gloat that they had vanquished single-family housing once and for all and opened the flood gates for a construction boom that will lead to greater supply, lower prices and more affordable housing.

But I dare say that this victory most likely will be a pyrrhic one. For when the reality sets in that these bills will not have the impact on housing that supporters hoped, proponents will find cold comfort in having stuck it to the homeowning class whose single-family neighborhoods endure. The proponents will find they are right back where they started, having to work with the same localities they tried to make an end-run around. For the fact of the matter is that SB 9 and SB 10 were — as the British say — “damp squibs” even before they got to the governor’s desk.

SB 10
SB 10, which allows cities to upzone to allow apartment buildings of up to 10 units to be constructed on an urban infill site or in a “transit rich” area, requires a specific local ordinance to be passed to go into effect. But recent analysis by the law firm Holland and Knight states, “SB 10 exempts only the rezoning process, without providing any CEQA exemption, ministerial approval or by-right approval process for the actual housing itself. The law will have a limited effect in significantly advancing housing approvals.” The City of Los Angeles (but not our own councilmember Nithya Raman) opposed this bill. If Los Angeles, which implements a number of housing programs, will not pass an ordinance, you can predict the response of smaller, more resistant cities.

SB 9
The boogeyman SB 9 is also largely housing fool’s gold. With the existing legislated ability of homeowners to construct ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units) and JADUs (Junior Accessory Dwelling Units), the era of pure single-family zoning ended several years ago. But as retired city planner and local resident Dick Platkin points out, ADU construction has failed to produce, with only 800 certificates of occupancy granted for ADUs pre-pandemic in a city of 600,000 eligible homes. According to the Terner Center For Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley, SB 9 will only have a modest effect on those parcels already financially feasible (for development) under existing law. “Few new single-family parcels are expected to become financially feasible for added units as a direct consequence of this bill.”

The Terner Center report also states that 97% of single-family home structures would likely be retained because duplex conversions of existing houses is likely the most probable outcome for most SB 9 eligible properties. The report concluded that “the new units unlocked by SB 9 would represent a fraction of the overall supply needed to fully address the state’s housing shortage.”

Governor Newsom signed these bills because he knew that the YIMBY PR machine made them sound more significant than they are. Reading the fine print shows they will do little to disturb the status quo in the majority of single-family neighborhoods. Where the impact of SB 9 will likely be felt are the middle class and low-income areas where land is cheapest for developers, but also are far from the “high resource” (as in jobs and transit) areas — much to the disappointment of housing equity advocates.

SB 9 and SB 10 are to potentially be put before the public in 2022 with the Californians for Community Planning Initiative, a ballot measure which seeks to prohibit the state from overriding local control of planning. If the initiative succeeds, it will mean the YIMBY movement has crossed a bridge too far, needlessly antagonizing local governments and homeowners in an effort to score an ideological point.

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Category: Real Estate

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