Riding Post-Recall Mandate, Newsom Bans Most Single-Family-Only Zoning In California
OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 15: Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks to the press while visiting Melrose Leadership Academy in Oakland, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021. On Tuesday, Newsom prevailed in the California Gubernatorial Recall Election to keep his post as governor.
Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/East Bay Times via Getty Images

Less than 48 hours after squashing an attempt to oust him from office, California Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom signed sweeping housing legislation on Thursday that reportedly bans single-family-only zoning in most neighborhoods across the state.

According to the San Jose Mercury News, Newsom “essentially abolished single-family zoning in California – and green-lighted a series of bills intended to bolster the state’s housing production.”

The San Francisco Chronicle reported, “Newsom signed a pair of bills that promote what supporters call a ‘light density’ approach, loosening zoning rules to make it easier to build out existing neighborhoods with small apartment buildings.”

Describing the signings as “a long-awaited victory for advocates who have pushed California to embrace denser construction as a solution to its critical housing shortage,” The Chronicle added, “Years of pitched legislative battles over single-family zoning and height limits ended Thursday.”

The bills were opposed by many local governments and neighborhood associations. They were sold as solutions to bring down the cost of housing and reduce homelessness. Together, they take away a city’s right to forbid multi-family lots anywhere, preempting any zoning requirements a city may have in place. In effect, the legislation transferred the authority to shape neighborhoods away from local governments to remote politicians in Sacramento.

According to The Chronicle, Senate Bill 9 “will establish a streamlined process to split lots and convert homes into duplexes, potentially creating up to four units on property that had just one before,” and:

Under the law, local governments will have to approve the applications if the projects meet size requirements and local design standards, fall outside historic and environmentally sensitive districts, and do not require the demolition of housing that is rent-restricted or has been occupied by tenants in the past three years.

Senate Bill 10 “will allow cities to rezone some parcels in urban areas, including those near public transit, for up to 10 units,” the outlet reported.

“The housing affordability crisis is undermining the California Dream for families across the state, and threatens our long-term growth and prosperity,” Newsom said in a statement. “Making meaningful impact on this crisis will take bold investments, strong collaboration across sectors and political courage from our leaders and communities to do the right thing and build housing for all.”

Critics of the legislation predict the measures could ultimately increase the cost of housing because of massive profit potential, especially if investors and developers end up outbidding each other when single-family lots go on the market. They say buyers could purchase a house, tear it down, and construct multiple dwellings on the same lot. However, property owners who apply for a lot split are required to sign an affidavit that they plan to reside in one of the homes for at least three years, according to the law. It remains to be seen how that stipulation will be enforced.

An official with the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which has long advocated on housing issues, opposed the bills and indicated “the organization is considering filing a lawsuit or qualifying a referendum for the ballot,” according to The Chronicle.


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